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A Record of Travel and Exploration in 
North-West Mongolia and Dzungaria 








G.C.S.I., Etc. 


VOL. I. 







The writer of this book, turning aside from the more 
familiar pathways of recent travel and reverting to the 
taste of an earlier generation, has selected a little-known 
portion of Central Asia as the scene of the explorations 
herein described. If a point be taken on or about the 
45th parallel of latitude midway between the Caspian 
and the Sea of Japan, we shall approximately strike the 
region which he traversed, surveyed, and mapped, with 
the patience and thoroughness of the true geographer, 
during the years 1910 and 1911. 

The regions in question are bounded by the Siberian 
dominions of Russia on the north ; they include the little- 
known basin of the Upper Yenisei River, which our 
author explored and describes with genuine enthusiasm ; 
they embrace successively the habitat of the Western 
Mongolian tribes and the plains of Dzungaria, and they are 
closed on the south by the long palisade of Tian Shan or 
Celestial Mountains. On the east they are shut off from 
the world and from the rest of China by the vast blank 
of the Gobi desert ; on the west are the settled conquests 
of Russian Turkestan. 

The great interest of the regions thus bordered lies 
in the fact that they constitute the Marches between 
rival races, creeds, and political powers. Here we see 


the Russian colonist, eager and competitive, pushing 
forward from Siberia into a land rich with minerals, 
fish, and furs, and serenely conscious that the future is his. 
We see the Mongolian tribesmen, heirs of a mighty past, 
long withered under the blighting influence of degenerate 
Lamaism, but now turning to the risen Sun of Russia to 
find a warmth and a protection which Chinese suzerainty has 
failed to give them. We see, on the plains of Dzungaria, 
the easternmost outposts of Islam, Turki tribes that still 
turn towards Mecca, and present a romantic and virile 
picture, not unlike that which in many a tract of Central 
Asia must have greeted the eyes of Marco Polo. We 
see China, at once, in movement and in decay, exhibiting 
in the provinces, known as the New Dominion, signs of 
considerable vigour and activity, elsewhere atrophied 
and effete. The question which Mr. Carruthers con- 
tinuously poses and indeed lies in the background of all 
his investigation and reflections is : with whom does the 
future of these mysterious regions rest, which have 
played so great a part in the history of the world, and 
which seem once more destined to have a future ? To 
those who read between the lines of this book, there will 
occur but one answer. 

Our traveller is of the type of geographer which has 
been evolved by prolonged experience and research. 
He does not set forth in the spirit of dare-devil and un- 
scientific adventure, with few resources but his own 
courage, to face unknown risks, and to survive incredible 
dangers — which was characteristic of the Central Asian 
explorer of the first half of the last century. Thoroughly 
familiar with the writings of all his European predecessors 
(and they have been but few) in the regions which he 


proposes to visit, a trained surveyor, accompanied by 
competent companions, equipped with the means of 
investigating and collecting the flora and fauna, the 
geology and zoology of the country, and marching at 
leisure with a carefully organized caravan, he sets before 
himself the ambition of making a definite and valuable 
contribution to the sum-total of human knowledge, and 
of writing a book that will long remain a classic on its 
subject. How well he has succeeded may be shown by 
the fact that in 1912 he received for these journeys and 
his account of them the Gold Medal of the Royal Geo- 
graphical Society. 

Those who depict Central Asia to themselves as a 
land of limitless desert, ribbed by occasional and mighty 
ranges, and characterized by general desolation, will 
perhaps be surprised, as they follow the writer, even 
within the compass of the explorations which he here 
records ; at one time into a country of jungle and swamps, 
infested by insects, at others into primeval forests, 
again on to bowery meadows and grassy uplands, or 
again amid crags and glaciers and moraines. Sometimes 
he is floating in rafts or boats on the broad lakes, or 
paddling a canoe on clear rivers ; he rides alternately 
the camel, pony, and ass, or is bumped about in a Chinese 
cart or a Russian tarantass ; now we see him sleeping 
in grim and dirty caravanserais — the skeletons of an 
almost immemorial past ; again he is the guest of nomad 
khans, hunting with golden eagles and falcons, and 
living in richly-embroidered huts of felt. 

In the course of these varied experiences hardships 
are encountered, disappointments occur, and an in- 
exhaustible patience is required. But our author is 
of the true fibre of the Asiatic traveller, and it may safely 


be wagered that this book describes the two happiest 
years of his life. 

While these volumes present the broad picture and 
subserve the general purpose to which I have referred, 
there are chapters in them which merit special attention. 
Such, are the careful and scholarly account of the indigenous 
tribe of the Uriankhai, living in seclusion on the Siberian 
frontier with their herds of domesticated reindeer, which 
they drive and ride, and milk and occasionally eat ; 
the chapter on the Mongols, which condenses in a succinct 
and picturesque form the history of that extraordinary 
people, who once planted sovereigns on the throne of 
Pekin, overran and nearly conquered Europe, created 
an amazing but ephemeral empire that stretched from 
France to Cathay, bequeathed to India the Mongol 
dynasty which has left so deep a mark on its architecture 
and history, and threw up the portentous figure of 
Jenghis Khan, who was probably responsible for more 
bloodshed than any human being that has ever lived, and 
is still appropriately revered as a deity among the 
Mongolian tribes ; the very different picture of the 
Kirei Kirghiz, who also produced a medieval hero in 
the person of the semi-historical, semi-mythical Prester 
John, and who, while owning allegiance partly to Russia 
and partly to Pekin, still pay spiritual homage to Stam- 
boul ; the account of the little independent Mohammedan 
Khanate of Hami or Kumul on the western confines of 
the Gobi desert ; and the description of an interesting 
tour of exploration in the Karlik Tagh. It may be 
be added that Mr. Carruthers is the master of a very 
clear, agreeable, and scholarly style. His name is a 
worthy addition to the sparse list of English explorers 
in these parts of Central Asia that contains the names of 



Younghusband, Ney Elias, and Stein, and even in the 
company of the illustrious Russians, — Prjevalsky, Koz- 
loff, Potanin, Severtzoff, and others, whose pioneer 
labours, spread over a long term of years, have conferred 
such incomparable advantages upon their own country, — 
it will be held deserving of honour. 

LCt/^ x^Zz^t&t^LgC- 


The purpose of these volumes is to place on record an 
account of certain regions of Upper Asia, hitherto left 
undescribed. The narrative of the journey is interwoven 
with an account of geographical exploration, with a broad 
outline of the history, and with a description of the races 
and the physical features of the land as a whole. The scope 
of the work is set forth at length in the Introduction. 

The difficulty of combining scientific observations, 
and a descriptive account of a particular region, with the 
story of our own experiences has led to the elimination 
of technicalities, except where absolutely necessary ; the 
scientific results of the expedition being published 
separately in journals especially devoted to such subjects. 

It should be noted that this expedition was entirely 
a private undertaking, an original idea, carried out by 
individual effort. My own special thanks, and the 
thanks of all geographers, are due in the first place to 
my companions — Mr. J. H. Miller and Mr. M. P. Price, 
who liberally subscribed to the funds necessary for the 
carrying out of such an enterprise, and on whose never- 
failing energy and keenness the success of the expedition 
largely depended. My account of the expedition and its 
work has been supplemented by three chapters written 
by Miller, on the big-game hunting and the sport of the 
regions we visited ; while Price has published his im- 
pressions of the political and social conditions of the 
Siberian borderlands in a separate volume. 1 

To the Royal Geographical Society I owe a debt of 
gratitude for the support they gave me, in forming the 

1 " Siberia," M. P. Price. Methuen, 1912. 


initial plans of the expedition, and for the loan of scientific 
instruments. I must also acknowledge the never-failing 
courtesy and help given me by the Librarian and his 
assistants, during research work which extended over 
many months ; as well as the care taken by the carto- 
graphers during their preparation of the maps. 

I have to thank Lord Curzon for his appreciation 
of my work, as shown in the Foreword, which he has 
written to introduce these volumes. 

The illustrations are, with two exceptions, all from 
our own photographs, the authorship of those not taken 
by myself being acknowledged in the list. I have to 
thank Mr. J. D. Cobbold for the loan of the photograph 
reproduced opposite page 60, and Mr. T. P. Miller for 
that opposite page 334. To Mr. J. G. Millais we are in- 
debted for the original picture of the wild sheep — Ovis 
ammon, which he was kind enough to paint in spite of 
the pressure entailed by his own work. The three coloured 
maps have been reproduced by kind permission of the 
Royal Geographical Society, under whose auspices they 
were compiled from my original surveys ; they have 
already appeared in the Geographical Journals of June 
1912 and April 1913. 

I have also to acknowledge the great help in matters 
of antiquarian interest afforded me by M. Adrianoff of 
Tomsk University. To Capt. Ernest Rason I am grateful 
for help in connection with the translation of several 
Russian works. For many valuable literary suggestions 
and the reading over of the entire proofs I must thank 
Lady Owen-Mackenzie, and Mrs. Holden, whose respec- 
tive advice in matters of arrangement and composition 
I find it difficult to sufficiently acknowledge. 

D. Carruthers. 

London, 1913. 
































An Uriankhai of the Upper Yenisei Basin . . Frontispiece 


Crossing the Frozen Yenisei . . . By J. H. Miller 30 

On the Road to Minnusinsk ... ,, „ 36 

A Siberian Colonist „ „ 42 

Siberians packing „ „ 42 

Stone Image (with Folded Arms grasping a Vessel) . . 54 

Unwrought Stone Slabs 54 

A Typical Stone Effigy in Mongolia . . By J. D. Cobbold 60 

Tumulus and Monoliths on the Chulim Steppe By J. H. Miller 66 

Spruce-forest on the Lower Slopes of the 

Syansk Mountains ..... ,, „ 76 

Forests of Scotch Pine, near Kushabar . „ 76 

Camp in the "Taiga" 80 

The Start from Kushabar . . . . By J. H. Miller 80 

Slow Progress through Dense "Taiga" . „ „ 86 

Flooded Forest 88 

Approaching the Syansk ....... 92 

In the Syansk Mountains (looking North-east along the 

Main Ridge) . By D. Carruthers and J. H. Miller 94 

A Flat-topped Summit of the Syansk Mountains ... 98 

Typical Scenery in the Upper Yenisei Basin 

By D. Carruthers and J. H. Miller 102 

Poling Dug-out Canoes up the Amil River .... 108 

Snow- line in the Syansk Mountains . . . . .112 

Rafting Down the Sisti-Kem 118 



facing page 
An Alpine Lake below Ulu-Taiga 

By D. Carruthers and J. H. Miller 124 
The Uriankhai Encampment of Ala-su 

By D. Carruthers and J. H. Miller 124 

Uriankhai "Tepees" and Reindeer-heads . By J. H. Miller 128 

Lake Chapsa .......... 134 

" Taigas," or Wild-places (Rocky Uplifts above the Forest- 
line) I3 8 

Fallen Timber I42 

On the Upper Bei-Kem .... . By J. H. Miller 144 

The Kuria of the Upper Bei-Kem . . „ „ 148 

Drifting Down the Bei-Kem .... ,, I4 g 

Lake-land at the Sources of the Yenesei . „ „ i$ 2 

Overlooking the Upper Yenisei Basin i 5 6 

An Uriankhai Encampment . . . . By J. H. Miller 156 

On the Lower Bei-Kem (showing the Mountain Barrier 

dividing the Lower Bei-Kem from the Upper) . . .160 

Forests and Flower-strewn Meadows at 5,000 ft. in the Syansk 

Mountains . . By D. Carruthers and J. H. Miller 164 

A Shammanistic Religious Ceremony in Progress 

By D. Carruthers and J. H. Miller 164 

Spruce Forests in the Upper Yenisei Basin . . .170 

The Bei-Kem Rapids . . . . . . . .174 

Shooting the Bei-Kem Rapids . . . . . .178 

On the Watershed of the Tannu-ola, Borashay Pass . 178 

Yurts under Larch-forest, Chedan Valley .... 182 

Chiefs of the Kemchik Uriankhai . . . . .186 

A Kuria, or Buddhist Temple, Chedan Valley . . . 192 

Degraded Type of Uriankhai, Buddhist Lamas By J. H. Miller 192 

Uriankhai Woman and her Charges — the Young Reindeer . 198 

Uriankhai Types : Ala-su Encampment . . By J. H. Miller 204 

"They have no Horses, but in the Stead of them they tame 

Certain Wild-beasts which they call Reem " . . 204 

Reindeer Herds going out to feed ..... 208 

A Melancholy Uriankhai . . . . . . .214 



By J. H. Miller 

By J. H. Miller 

An Uriankhai Family 

An Uriankhai Lama 

A Wrestling Match 

A Young Uriankhai 

Uriankhai Hunter . 

Syansk Reindeer (Brown Variety) 

Syansk Reindeer (White Variety) 

Horns, in Velvet, of the Syansk Reindeer 

A Shamman Witch-Doctor 

An Uriankhai Shamman Doctor 

Uriankhai " Obos " in the Upper Yenisei Basin 

An " Obo " and Votive Offerings on the Mongolian 
Plateau ....... 

Musicians at an Uriankhai Religious Ceremony 

A Religious Ceremony ..... 

Flag indicating an Uriankhai Cemetery 

Buddhistic Banners (a Religious Ceremony at 
the chedan kuria) ..... 

Uriankhai Form of " Burial "... 

The Yamachu Plateau (Panorama) 

By D. Carruthers and J '. H. 
Mongol Karaul on the South Side of the Tannu-ola 
The Central Group of the Turgun Alpine Region 

By D. Carruthers and J. H. 
Surveying at 10,500 ft. in the Turgun Range 

By D. Carruthers and J. H. 
Herds of Yaks in the Turgun Highlands 

Transport by Oxen By J.H. 

A Change of Transport-animals ... ,, 

Peak Kundelun in the Turgun Highlands . 

On the Yamachu Plateau 

Mongols moving Camp ...... 

Mongol Cavaliers By J.H. 

A Mongol Girl ....... 


. 218 









Miller 258 

. 262 

Miller 268 

Miller 268 

. 274 

Miller 278 


. 282 

. 288 

. 296 

Miller 300 

. 302 




A Durbkt Mongol By J. H. Miller 306 

Young Lamas . 
Mongols loading up Oxen 
Mongol Hags . 
Kirei Matrons 


. 3M 
By J. H. Miller 314 


Sketch-map of Asia, showing Siberian-Chinese Frontier . 1 

The Basin of the Upper Yenisei and Surrounding Regions 

{End of Volume) 





Mongolian Scenery 





Siberia and Siberians 

Syansk Mountains . 

Upper Yenisei Basin Scenery 


Uriankhai TyrEs 



. 262, 296, 

. 108, 118 
164, 192, 224, 240 

124, 128, 156 


54, 6o, 66 

I34» 152 

300, 302, 306, 310, 314 

258, 268, 282, 288 

124, 178, 268, 282, 288 

144, 148, 160, 174, 178 

128, 204, 208, 230, 234 

244, 246, 248, 252, 310 

30, 36, 42, 80 

92, 94, 98, 112 

80, 88, 102, 138, 156 

182, 198, 224, 228, 252 

186, 204, 214, 218, 228 

76, 86, 142, 164, T70 



Former experience in Central Asia, and a careful review 
of the labours of all previous travellers in the remote parts 
of this great continent, showed us that there was, at least, 
one region still worthy of examination. 

In the exploration of the sources of the Yenisei 
River, of North-western Mongolia and Dzungaria, we 
have found a practically new field for original work in 
the study of geography, ethnology, and zoology. 

This great tract of country, stretching across the heart 
of Asia, is one of those few regions in the exploration of 
which the British have had no part, it having been en- 
tirely monopolized by the Russians. For this reason, and 
since the labours of these Russian travellers are frequently 
left unrecorded, and, even when published, are unin- 
telligible to investigators and scientists in other parts of 
the world — unless they chance to be well acquainted with 
the Russian language, it is our ambition to place on 
record a detailed description of these lands, which in 
many respects are quite unknown to English readers. 

In these days the public expects something altogether 
new, some actual addition to knowledge, in a book of 
travel, and yet every year it becomes a harder task for 
I — i 


the would-be explorer to find scope for his energy, the 
blank spaces on the maps being rapidly filled in, and 
pioneer work having almost become a thing of the past. 
We claim, however, that the countries we visited, namely, 
the Upper Yenisei basin, North-western Mongolia, and 
parts of Dzungaria, have been left almost untouched 
by previous travellers, and that our information is 
practically original. No apology, therefore, is needed for 
the writing of this book ; it is, in no sense, an addition 
to the bibliography of a much-travelled-over land. The 
birthplace of one of Asia's greatest rivers, the region of 
the sources of the Yenisei, has hitherto escaped the dis- 
cerning eye and eager foot of the traveller. The existing 
maps of this country are much at fault, certain 
regions have never even been mapped, and no attempt 
has been made to describe the wild stretches of dense 
forest and rugged ranges on the Siberian-Mongol frontier, 
or the strange tribes of shy, forest-dwelling Uriankhai 
inhabiting them. 

Our aim was, primarily, to explore as thoroughly as 
possible the little-know 7 n sources of the Yenisei River, the 
upper waters of which, rise on the northern edge of the 
great Mongolian plateau. Here, in a mountain-girt 
basin, cut off alike from the plains of Siberia and the 
bleak uplands of Mongolia, protected from intrusion 
by a belt of the densest forest, and by the rugged 
heights of its border ranges, lies a region containing 
material of deep interest both to the geographer and to 
the naturalist. Here exists the last stronghold of the 
indigenous tribes of Southern Siberia — tribes that have 
been driven back into the far recesses of the forests, 
the Upper Yenisei basin being the resort of the Urian- 


khai — " the wild forest-dwellers " — who at the present 
day just hold their own against nature. 

After penetrating into this region in the summer of 
1 910, and traversing the basin from the far north-east 
to the south-west, we passed out of it by crossing the 
Tannu-ola range — the watershed between Arctic drainage 
and the inland self-contained basins — and entered 
Mongolia. Through North-western Mongolia we con- 
tinued our work, visiting that remarkable group of 
mountains — the Turgun or Kundelun — the headquarters 
of the Durbet tribe, and gaining an insight into the 
present-day conditions of the once-powerful Mongols. 

A few Russian travellers had alone preceded us 
to the sources of the Yenisei, but travellers on the wide 
Mongolian plateau itself are more numerous. Atkinson, 
Ney Elias, and Younghusband represent the only British 
travellers; the Russians, however, form a considerable 
band of explorers amongst whom are the illustrious 
names of Prjevalsky, Kozloff, Potanin, Pievtzof, and 
Matussovski. We hope to add considerably to the in- 
formation they have given us of the mountains, lakes, 
and pasturages, and of the wandering nomads of these 
wind-swept wastes. Our itinerary did not follow the same 
line as that of previous travellers, since a careful con- 
sideration of all their routes enabled us to steer a new 
course across the highlands of Mongolia. 

Our route, then, led us in a westerly direction to the 
home of the Kirei — a nomad tribe of great importance, 
who, .as the descendants of the people once under the 
direct chieftainship of that historical person, Prester 
John, present problems of considerable interest. 

Dzungaria, a vague term used to include the whole 


of the inter- Altai-Tian Shan region, also lacks any syste- 
matic or detailed description, and this occupied our atten- 
tion after crossing Northern Mongolia. The information 
we gained during ten months spent on its border ranges 
and in crossing its inhospitable wastes, combined with the 
observations on the previous journeys of the great Rus- 
sian pioneers, brings up to date the account of the ancient 
land of the Dzungars. We followed the Russian-Chinese 
frontier from the Altai to Kulja in the Hi Valley, at 
which point Price left us for further journeys in Russian 
Turkestan and the Caucasus, on his way to England, and 
Miller and I halted for several months. Beyond this, our 
plans at the outset were vaguely formed ; the main 
idea being to turn eastwards, along the southern borders 
of Dzungaria to Urumchi and Kumul, thence to cross the 
Great Gobi to the Hoang Ho and so on to Pekin. The 
latter part of this programme was, however, given up, in 
order to track more thoroughly over Dzungaria. After 
carrying out a detailed survey of the Karlik Tagh group, 
to the north-east of Kumul, we turned back and again 
crossed Dzungaria. We included in our itinerary the 
Bogdo-ola sacred lake on the south, the Barlik Moun- 
tains on the north, the Borotala Valley on the west, and 
arrived again in Kulja in July of 1911 ; we then 
crossed the Tian Shan into Chinese Turkestan, and 
returned to England via Kashgar, Yarkand, and the 
Karakorum range, which led us to Leh, Kashmir, and 

The work was only accomplished with infinite trouble 
and patience. It was impossible to hurry across such a 
country. Slow plodding behind a crawling camel cara- 
van across endless steppes, short stages in Chinese carts 


on still shorter winter days along the Chinese Imperial 
High Road, or five miles a day through dense forest 
on the Siberian frontier, prove that the journey was 
a laborious one, and that it was quickly accomplished in 
twenty months. Extremes of climate in Central Asia 
added to the difficulties of arranging an itinerary, for the 
winter months prohibited geographical work, and put 
collecting out of the question. 

This narrative should be a counterpart of the regions 
we passed through, — varied in the Yenisei forests, 
monotonous in Mongolia and Dzungaria. The " feel and 
the smell " of the country should live in all we describe, 
whether it is sombre forest, misty plateau, racing river, 
or burning desert. It is the atmosphere of the country, 
the heart-throb of that great lone land, of which we 
wish to give an impression, not omitting, at the same time, 
exigencies of daily travel, the toils of survey work, or the 
joys of discovery. This is an account of a journey across 
5,000 miles of Asia, between the railways of Siberia 
and India, accomplished by means of tarantass, canoe, 
boat, and raft, by ass, ox, camel, and pack-pony, through 
countries the mere mention of which must arouse a glow 
of enthusiasm in the most confirmed city-dwellers ; a 
journey that led us through the ancient land of the 
Mongols, across the little-known deserts of Dzungaria, 
through sandy Turkestan — with its old-world, sleepy 
oases, and over the high-flung Himalayas. 

Mongolia and Dzungaria are, to the average European, 
lands of romance and mystery. Lying off the track, 
midway between Siberia and Cathay, they do not possess 
the features of either of these wide lands, but form the 
most eastern portion of that great zone of waste-land 


which lies like a belt across the Old World, under the names 
of Turkestan and Transcaspia, Persia, Arabia, and the 
Sahara. The great trade-routes of Asia pass by Mongolia 
and Dzungaria without tapping them. The commerce and 
transport of the ancient world, which once connected east 
and west, passed far to the south, whilst the new line 
of communication passes across Siberia to the north ; 
Mongolia and Dzungaria, lying isolated between the two, 
have remained untouched. The energetic exploiters 
of China's secrets have scarcely extended their labours 
farther than the boundaries of the Great Wall ; the 
explorers of Chinese Turkestan have stopped short on 
reaching the bleak wastes of Mongolia, the Tian Shan 
Mountains being the most northern limit of their journeys. 
The true pioneers of travel in these regions have come 
from the north : the hardy colonists of Siberia, the 
scientists from her universities, and the soldiers from 
her garrisons, having supplied the units of the most daring 
and plodding band of adventurers into the Unknown, 
that ever honoured the annals of exploration. 

With this intrusion of Europe into Asia came the 
best of the Russians, adventurers at heart and dauntless in 
spirit, eager to add to their area of Empire, to open up 
fresh spheres of trade, and to enrich their scientific collec- 
tions. Came also the foremost of her soldiers, merchants, 
and scientists ; Kozloff and Prjevalsky — the explorers, 
Severtzoff — the naturalist, Radloff and Adrianoff — the 
antiquarians, all having won their laurels on these 
lonely Asiatic frontiers. What yearnings for the " new " 
must they not have felt, when they saw the whole of 
Asia unroll before the foremost lines of their dusty 
columns ! Little wonder that men grew ambitious 


when a whole continent lay spread out before them. 
Russia has overflowed into Siberia, and Siberia has ab- 
sorbed every man she sent. China has, strangely enough, 
expanded into foreign lands, — into America and Australia, 
rather than tackle the problem of systematically coloniz- 
ing her outlying provinces. For this reason these lands 
lie untilled and desolate, given over to the herds of 
wild-horses, to the shy, wild mountain-sheep, and to the 
roaming bands of nomads. 

The call of Mongolia has remained almost unheeded 
throughout the ages. Men still look on that region as 
the birthplace of that greatest scourge the world ever 
experienced, the Mongol demi-god, Jenghis Khan. It is 
a wild land, a land of immense distance ; one can travel 
continuously for a week, and still hold the same snowy 
peaks in view. The scenery is savage and the climate 
inhospitable, yet, in spite of the severity of winter, sum- 
mer fills the land with song and flushes its plateaux with 
grass. Our Mongolia, of the Siberian frontier, is one 
which will surprise geographers, and tempt the would-be 
traveller to wander in wild but charming surroundings. 
Here, on the edge of China, — on the verge, as it were, of 
the Gobi Desert, — is a land of exceptional beauty; here are 
mountains, forests, lakes, and rivers, meadows of lush, 
long grass, a wealth of wild flowers, deep, shadowy 
forests of larch and pine, and racing streams of clearest 
water — in truth, a New Mongolia. 

In this land of unique physical conditions is to be 
found the birthplace of many races now widely dispersed ; 
the origin of so many breeds can be traced in this quarter 
of Asia, that men have lightly called it " the cradle of the 
human race." From these steppes and plateaux, in 


days gone by, emerged various migrating tribes and 

many world-wide movements had here their beginning, 

making the history of its inhabitants most difficult 

to follow. Here lies the ancient home of some of the 

greatest Asiatic races, — the Mongol and the Turk, the 

descendants of whom have ruled in Pekin and Stamboul. 

Such widely separated peoples as the Finns of Northern 

Europe, the Magyars of Hungary, and the Red Indians of 

America, not to mention the Samoyedes and the Eskimos, 

must be credited with having originated in these regions. 

This strange land, which to-day is of little account, 

has profoundly influenced the history of the world. Here, 

countless ages ago, arose that Uigur Empire, the 

origin of which is shrouded in mystery and antiquity, 

its history extending so far into the dim distance 

that the most learned scholars have failed to unravel its 

problems. This is the land which has bred unrest from 

time immemorial ; on these wind-swept plateaux wandered 

the Huns who eventually overran Europe ; this was 

the home of the wild nomads who afterwards founded a 

dynasty in China, — which lasted until quite recently, who 

created an Empire in India, and who, by virtue of immense 

conquests in Asia, were actually in a position, for a time, 

to speak in dominating accents to Europe ; here, too, 

was born that Mongol chieftain Jenghis Khan, whose 

name is still honoured by the Tartar tribesman, and whose 

personality has ever been invested with supernatural 


It is of special interest to study the great men-move- 
ments in these vast regions of Inner Asia, — on the marches 
of Siberia and China, to trace the manner in which aim- 
less migration and stupendous military expeditions led 


to more systematic conquests by greater powers ; and 
to note that the whole of that immense tract fell finally 
under the rule of two great peoples. An unusual com- 
bination of physical conditions adds further interest 
to this study of the Russo-Chinese border-lands. The 
opening up of Siberia is in itself a wonderful story; Siberia 
is the Canada of Asia, and its colonization has a great 
future. Mongolia, on the other hand, is a country with 
a past, capable of development, but presenting the serious 
drawback of being inhabited by an ancient and not very 
virile race. Dzungaria comes under the category of 
those lands which may be turned to good account, 
under favourable political conditions and a progressive 
and consecutive Government. Chinese Turkestan, on 
the other hand, is a paradox ; it is the most fertile of 
all the lands here mentioned, and every available acre 
is taken up, the population is greater than the country 
can support, and it produces an inert, lethargic race, 
who, having enough, are content. 

On to these lands are pressing the surplus population 
— the front ranks — of two peoples with a future ; on 
the north and west are the Russians, and on the south 
and east are the Chinese. Who would dare to prophesy 
the future of the marches of Siberia and China ? 

If, as some think, it is " in Asia once again that will 
be decided the destinies of the world," then every portion 
of Asia claims notice, but more especially those parts 
where the Asia of the Asiatics borders upon the Asia 
under European rule — where the East and the West come 
face to face, and where doubt exists as to their respective 
futures. Since our return from Mongolia, that land, 
which yesterday was almost unknown, has, by a 


curious coincidence, leapt suddenly into prominence. 
The land of the Mongols has again appeared upon the 
world's stage, after having been for eight hundred years 
behind the scenes. China has been in the throes of 
revolution, Mongolia has seized the opportunity to 
throw off the Manchu yoke, and over a million 
square miles of Asia have come on the market. The 
importance of this cannot be overrated, for Mongolia 
is China's landward gate, — through Mongolia and 
Dzungaria run the roads from Cathay to Siberia 
and Western Asia. Between the Far East and the 
West the only line of communication, uninterrupted 
by natural difficulties, runs through Dzungaria. Some 
day, no doubt, the whistle of the locomotive will startle 
the wild-asses of the Dzungarian plains, and the slouching 
camel-caravan will no longer find employment ; but for 
the present these lands lie quiet, and there is still an 
unknown Mongolia. 

Our Forerunners 

There are no means of going back as far as the discovery 
of Mongolia. Such a term is scarcely applicable to this 
part of Asia, which can never have been entirely un- 
known to the West. It is one of those lands which was 
known to Europe in the early ages ; then it was for- 
gotten, — for many centuries Mongolia disappeared off the 
world's stage, — only to be rediscovered once more during 
the latter half of last century. 

We must retrace our steps as far as the fifth century, 
to find the first communications that passed between 
Mongolia and the West. Upper Asia — then called 


Tartary — first came in contact with the outside world 
through the medium of Nestorian missionaries, who 
in those early days penetrated to the furthermost 
East, but by whose agency very little information 
respecting these far-off lands filtered through. In the 
fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries successive waves of 
Asiatic invaders poured westwards, namely, the Huns, 
those wild shepherd-warriors from the east, who mate- 
rially altered the history of Europe. 

It was not until the twelfth century that Tartary 
made the first real impression on the West. The earliest 
accounts of Mongolia and its people, which came 
through to us, were indeed romantic ; Europe was 
then staggered by the reports which reached her of 
the triumphs and might of that semi-mythical per- 
sonage " Prester John " — Khan of the Keraites — and 
of his supposed conversion to Christianity. Embassies 
went to and fro between the Courts of Europe and the 
Khan of the Keraites. High Asia loomed large in the 
imagination of the peoples of the West. Missions were 
sent out to brave the bleak steppes of Central Asia, in 
order to carry letters from the Pope, the King of France, 
and the Christian Emperor of Constantinople. Prester 
John managed to create an exaggerated excitement in 

Then followed the Mongol invasions, and the Western 
world learnt only too well the character and nature of the 
Tartars, for the stupendous movements that originated 
in Mongolia, early in the thirteenth century, brought 
Europe into close relationship with the Mongols. It is a 
strange fact that we of the West never came in contact 
with these crude but successful warriors, until they 


visited us in Europe. All through the thirteenth cen- 
tury there was close intercourse between Europe and 
Tartary, chiefly, it is true, by reason of wars and in- 
vasions, but later also by means of intelligent mission- 
aries, who were sent to convert the barbarians, and who 
gave us the first realistic account of Mongolia and the 

When the Mongols retired from Poland and Hungary, 
and the height of their lust for conquest was attained, 
there followed a period of more peaceful intercourse 
between Europe and Middle Asia. The rulers of Europe 
began to despatch emissaries to the Mongol Khans, and 
the Pope authorized missions to propagate religion and 
to encourage civilization amongst the barbarians, with 
the idea of changing the ferocious Tartars into mild and 
peace-loving people. Of these emissaries, two, John de 
Carpini and William of Rubruck, Franciscan monks, 
have given us excellent accounts of their impressions 
of the Mongols, and I repeatedly quote from the 
narratives of these two earliest Western travellers in 
Upper Asia. Carpini achieved the distinction of being 
the first Western traveller to make mention of the exist- 
ence of the Mongol capital, Karakorum ; and Rubruck 
was the first to actually visit it. Besides these, we have 
the story of Marco Polo, who includes in his wide-ranging 
descriptions allusions to parts of Northern Mongolia, 
and an account of its ancient capital. 

After this, there followed a period during which we 
gained but little information ; for the next three hundred 
years there was a blank in the history of intercourse 
between Mongolia and the West. The Mongol had already 
sunk from his high estate; his power was no longer a 


source of wonder and fear to the Western world. The 
centre of interest changed to Cathay, and affairs with 
cultivated China blocked out all thought of the wild 
Mongolian steppes and their barbaric nomads. Formerly 
the Tartars were only approached by the landward 
gates ; it was by bravely facing the thousands of miles of 
barren Central Asia that the embassies and missions 
reached the Court of Karakorum ; but now the depths 
of Tartary were forgotten, for men sailed in ships to the 
great ports of China. Thus, after the destruction of the 
Mongol power, and the retirement of the warrior-hordes 
to the innermost steppes, Tartary sank into oblivion, 
and for the time being all intercourse between it and the 
West discontinued. We hear very little of Tartary until 
the ever-pushing, insatiable ambition of a European 
Power found itself suddenly face to face with the desert 
frontiers of China, and the Russian Empire marched 
with Cathay along a vaguely delimitated border-land ; 
then only did Mongolia begin to occupy a place in the 
minds of the scientist, the politician, and the trader. 

As previously mentioned, it was men of Russian 
nationality who were chiefly responsible for the explora- 
tion of these regions. The great unknown that lay 
beyond the Siberian frontier, fifty years ago, was a " lode- 
star " to the Russian pioneers, who were for ever pushing 
on from the newly acquired territories into what they 
imagined might be richer lands. Slowly the great waves 
of European influence spread towards Inner Asia. Russia 
from the North, Great Britain through India, and in 
the east both these nations vied with other Great Powers 
for their share in a possible partition of China. With 
the quick flow of Russian colonization in Siberia, the 


Russians were the first to reach the borders of Mongolia, 
and her territories there bordered on the ancient lines 
of the Chinese frontier. 

It was early in the seventeenth century, that Russia 
began seriously to attempt to open up communication 
between her new Siberian possessions and China. All 
through this and the succeeding century there were 
repeated missions passing between the Courts of Pekin 
and Russia, but the intervening lands of Mongolia re- 
ceived only scanty attention at the hands of these early 
emissaries — China, not Mongolia, being their objective. 

Mongolia was not such a land as would tempt a hasty 
exploration. Its trade was not such as would be an incen- 
tive to rapid penetration by merchants and traders, nor 
have strategical possibilities acted as an inducement to 
military occupation by a foreign Power; neither has 
popular enthusiasm in Europe helped on the exploration 
of Mongolia, as it has done with Africa or the Poles. 
There has been no great prize awaiting the traveller who 
has undertaken laborious journeys in this far land, and 
no great mystery has awaited solution. Only the historical 
fact of this being the home of the Mongols, the birthplace 
of the greatest scourge with which it has pleased 
Providence to punish the West, allows Mongolia to take 
a place amongst the most interesting regions of the 
world. To men of science, then, are we chiefly indebted 
for the rediscovery of Mongolia. 1 

1 In treating of the early travellers to the region we visited, I use the 
term " Mongolia " in its widest sense — namely those wide, open lands which 
lie along the northern border-lands of the Chinese Empire, from Turkestan 
to Manchuria. In old days the term applied to this region was " Tartary, " 
but that name was also extended to other parts of Central Asia which 
were then being overrun by the Mongols. In dealing with the more 
recent exploration I reserve Mongolia as the name for that region 


In the middle of the nineteenth century the first 
scientific pioneers looked beyond this frontier, and, 
with the craving for the " unknown " which comes to 
all true men, set out to penetrate the wastes which 
lay between them and the Great Wall of China. The 
romance of exploration has no more enthralling chapter 
than the Russian penetration of Central Asia and Far 
Western China. It was a great undertaking, well suited 
to the Muscovite mind. The Russian does everything 
on a vast scale. His journeys are colossal undertakings. 
Prjevalsky, the pioneer, covered 19,500 miles of route, 
and spent nine years and four months in accomplishing 
it. Kozloff crossed the Great Gobi five times, and in 
three different directions ! 

The Russian exploration of inner Asia was a methodi- 
cal undertaking, part of a great Plan organized by the 
Imperial Russian Geographical Society of St. Petersburg, 
under the able Vice-Presidency of A. M. Semenof. For 
the last forty years a small army of topographers has 
been mapping that vast country, and scientists have 

which is ruled by the hereditary Mongol Khans — the true Mongolia. 
Dzungaria fulfils the duty of title of the western portion of this region; 
while the " Upper Yenisei basin " most suitably describes the enclosed 
sources of that great Siberian river. Of the whole area we traversed, this 
latter is the only one of which I can scarcely find mention in the old days. 
Apparently it remained undiscovered until 1 860, when the modern traveller 
found it out. Raschid, who wrote a history of the tribes of Asia in the 
fourteenth century, made mention of certain reindeer-keepers of the 
Upper Yenisei, referring either to the Tunguses of Southern Siberia or 
actually the Uriankhai. His account certainly suits the latter, for he 
describes them as dressing in deer-skins, keeping neither oxen nor sheep, 
as living in birch-huts and using snow-shoes. Marco Polo shows a know- 
ledge of certain reindeer-keeping people such as are the inhabitants of the 
Upper Yenisei basin, whom he describes as being " a very wild race," 
who " live by their cattle, the most of which are stags, and these stags," 
he assures us, ■' they used to ride upon." But these early references to 
the tribes of Southern Siberia are too vague to allow us to put them down 
as referring directly to those of the Upper Yenisei region. 


been describing her wonders. All the energies of 
Russian travellers have been concentrated on this 
region. The great Empire which stretches for 3,500 
consecutive miles across Asia might have had her 
work cut out in surveying her own lands without of 
necessity paying attention to those of others ; yet she has 
found time during the last sixty years not only to explore 
her own territory, but to take the field against other 
nationalities in the colossal work of reducing areas equally 
as vast, such as Mongolia, Eastern Turkestan, Northern 
Tibet, and Western China, to the scale of a map. The 
Russian " 40 versts to an inch " * survey is the standard 
map over some 8,761,000 square miles of Asia. It should, 
however, be noted that the whole area is contiguous, 
almost under the same physical conditions, and — a still 
more unique and important consideration — mostly united 
under one Government, which alone has made possible 
thorough investigation and research. 

As the towns of Southern Siberia, namely, of the pro- 
vinces of Semipalatinsk and the Yeniseisk, grew to be of 
importance, traders began to push farther southwards, 
and to make long expeditions into Mongolia in order to 
exploit the wealth of the country. These pioneers 
brought back the first information of the great plateau- 
land, of the wandering nomads, and their unlimited 
herds. It is noteworthy that, whereas our earliest infor- 
mation concerning Mongolia came through the medium 
of zealous missionaries in the thirteenth century, the 
pioneers of the nineteenth century who rediscovered 
Mongolia were traders and scientists. 

1 Published by the Topographical Section of the Russian General 
Staff, St. Petersburg. 


In this survey of previous exploration we can only 
deal with the work achieved in the region immediately 
under our notice. The majority of the travellers men- 
tioned, covered far wider areas than those regions to which 
we draw attention. Many of them ran route-surveys 
across Mongolia on their way to Tibet and Turkestan, 
or mapped the Tian Shan ranges en route for China ; 
in consequence we find little-known regions quite close 
to the Siberian frontier. These explorers, eager for 
greater prizes, neglected the lands that lay nearest to 
them and pushed ahead into the farther unknown. 

Up to quite recent times, the maps showed a remark- 
able lack of knowledge, on the part of the map-makers, 
of the true topography of Mongolia and Dzungaria. 
This lack of knowledge accounts for their divergence from 
the truth. For instance, fantastic lakes were coloured 
blue where now dry steppe is proved to exist, and 
M Gobi " (desert) was then broadly written across unknown 
tracks, which now show pleasant hill-country where nomads 
camp and wild game find pasture. The map of the Upper 
Yenisei, the Syansk and Tannu-ola ranges, is still very 
poor in detail, chiefly on account of the impenetrable 
nature of those regions, where survey-work presents in- 
superable difficulties. Mongolia is an easier country to 
map, but even here there is a great want of really 
accurate work, especially in the mountains. In the 
Altai and in Eastern Tian Shan, the case is the same. 
The following resume of exploration is intended to give 
an idea of the previous work carried out in this region, 
and by whom it was accomplished. 

In spite of the fact that the Russians were first on 
the spot, and the monopoly of exploration was theirs, 



the earliest traveller of whom I can find record, to 
penetrate into those depths of Mongolia, was an English- 
man. Thomas Whitlam Atkinson, an artist, traversed 
such an incredible distance over this part of Asia — at a 
most interesting period, between the years 1853-60 l — 
that his accounts were at first received with incredulity. 
His reputation as a traveller was entirely based upon the 
extent of his wanderings (he claims to have covered 
39,500 miles of country in the course of his seven years' 
wandering). His qualifications stop there ; he made 
no addition to scientific knowledge, his unsatisfactory 
narratives are almost impossible to follow, and in the 
light of scientific research his achievements carry no 
weight. But there is little doubt that he actually accom- 
plished the routes he describes. With travel in Siberia 
he included a ride across the heart of Dzungaria into 
North-west Mongolia, and back again to the Russian 
Altai ; he claims to have been the first European to 
set eyes on the Tian Shan mountains and the basin of the 
Upper Yenisei, but to this later journey he pays no 
further attention than merely drawing his route on the 
map. His journeys cover the whole vast region between 
Kulja, in the Hi Valley, Omsk, Irkutsk, and Barkul. 

The first true explorer was a Russian — Matussovski — 
who did magnificent pioneer work all through North- 
west Mongolia and Dzungaria. His labours began in 

1 That there had been scientific explorers on the frontiers before this 
date is shown by the volume published in 1845 by P. de Tchihatcheff, in 
which the writer describes a journey undertaken, by order of the Czar, 
to the " Eastern Altai and the adjacent regions on the frontier of China." 
No doubt there were others, but the literature on the subject is extremely 
difficult to get hold of, and as often as not the reports of the early travellers 
were not for public circulation. 


1870, and extended over a period of five years. At 
first, under the leadership of Pavlinoff, he was in the 
Uliassutai country, and in the Upper Yenisei basin, being 
the first true explorer of whom I can find record to visit 
that region. Later, in 1872-3, with two companions, 
he penetrated as far as the eastern spurs of the Tian 
Shan, having crossed the desert from Uliassutai. This 
journey included a visit to Guchen and Barkul, and 
finished up with a fine bit of pioneer work along the 
course of the Urungu River from source to mouth in the 
Ulungur Lake, together with considerable tracking up 
and down the southern slopes of the Mongolian Altai. 
In 1875 Matussovski turned up again at Barkul, at the 
end of a long journey from China, having come this time 
from the south. Strenuous travels these, and for the 
most part composed of actual pioneer work. Matus- 
sovski was the first to probe the depths of Mongolia, and 
his energy shed a flood of light over this great lone land 
lying along the Russian frontier. 

At the same time another pioneer was filling in large 
blanks on the map. Potanin — the Cossack officer — 
young, keen, and eager to throw himself into the ro- 
mantic life of an explorer after he had suffered disap- 
pointment and exile on account of political intrigue. He 
made long and laborious route-surveys, marking, with 
red lines, his route over thousands of miles of unknown 
country ; and, what is even more important, he gave 
us many bulky volumes describing in detail the regions 
he visited. Potanin still lives, a veteran of seventy- 
five years; he is the greatest living authority on the 
exploration of Mongolia, and is still capable of putting 
together the results of his journeys at his home in Omsk. 


In 1876-7 Potanin covered the country between such 
widely separated places as Zaisan, Kobdo, Barkul, Ulias- 
sutai and Lake Kossogol. In 1879 ^ e visited the Upper 
Yenisei basin and the Turgun Mountains. Some years 
later he made further long journeys, but in regions 
outside those which our descriptions embrace — such as 
in the Ordos, Koko Nor, and the central Gobi. 

In 1872 a somewhat unusual expedition took place, 
which well illustrates the plodding and pioneering 
instincts of the Russians, whose remarkable exploits 
in Central Asia correspond to the great " treks " of the 
Boer traders in the early days of South Africa. A Rus- 
sian merchant of Zaisan, on the Siberian frontier of Dzun- 
garia, conceived the idea of outfitting and despatching 
a trading expedition into the remote corners of North 
Mongolia. The party was formed, and eventually trekked 
over some 1,700 miles of unknown country ; they visited 
Kobdo, Uliassutai, Barkul, Guchen, before returning to 
Siberia. This expedition was carried out on the strength 
of the Russian commercial treaty with China, which 
opened up Mongolia and Dzungaria to Russian traders. 

In the following year (1873) another Englishman ap- 
peared upon the scene — Ney Elias, who ran a route- 
survey from Pekin to the head-waters of the Ob River 
in Siberia, and, passing through North-west Mongolia 
on the way, left us the first accurate account of North 
Mongolia. Potanin, with his companions Rafailow, 
Matussovski, and Sosnovsky, together with Pievtzoff, 
who worked in the Altai, Eastern Dzungaria, and 
Mongolia, and Regel, the botanist, — these are re- 
sponsible for the maps of this region up to the year 


At this point comes in the renowned Prjevalsky, 
who has had a hand in every map of the Russian-Chinese 
border-land, and has achieved such a brilliant series 
of discoveries. His labours had hitherto lain mostly far 
to the south — on the Tibetan borders, and in the Southern 
Gobi ; but in 1879, on nis wa Y to Tibet, he crossed the 
deserts of Dzungaria and visited the Eastern Tian Shan. 
Prjevalsky, with his unique training as soldier, geographer, 
and naturalist, has left us the most fascinating records 
of travel, containing mines of information and much 
detailed research. 

In the eighties we have five travellers of note, who 
worked over widely different areas. In 1881 Adrianoff — 
who had already gained experience under Potanin on his 
second journey — visited the Kemchik region of the 
Upper Yenisei basin, and the Tannu-ola range and Kos- 
sogol. He has since written considerably on the anti- 
quities of these regions. 

Four years later Klementz also worked at the an- 
tiquities and the geology of North Mongolia, and his 
studies embraced a very large field ; he made extensive 
journeys in North-western Mongolia between the years 
1885-97, both on his own account and also under the 
leadership of Professor Radloff. Klementz covered very 
large areas of country ; he was the first to explore 
the Kemchik sources of the Upper Yenisei, he also 
visited the sources of the Khua-Kem, and twice crossed 
the " divide " between the Upper Yenisei and Lake 
Kossogol. Later, being employed on the expedition 
sent out by the Academy of Sciences of St. Peters- 
burg to investigate the ruins of ancient Karakorum, he 
was in a position to make extensive journeys on his own 


account over the whole area between Urga and the 
Altai, his routes crossed and recrossed the basins of 
Kobdo and Ubsa, they included traverses of the Tannu- 
ola and the Eastern Altai, and demonstrate the fact that 
he explored the sources of the Black Irtish, the Saksai, 
and Tsagan-gol sources of the Kobdo River, that he 
travelled round Achit Nor and the Turgun Mountains, not 
to mention far-reaching journeys towards the east, in 
regions which are outside the scope of our descriptions. 

In 1887, two Englishmen visited the southern borders 
of our region — Captain (now Sir Francis) Younghusband 
and Colonel Mark Bell. The former traversed the 
Northern Gobi from Pekin to Hami, and eventually 
passed to Chinese Turkestan and India. The latter took 
the southern route through China to Hami, and went 
on to Barkul and Guchen. The accounts given us by 
these two travellers are the only ones in English up to 
date (excepting Dr. Stein's recently published work) of 
that out-of-the-way corner of Central Asia — the Hami 
and Barkul ranges. Another expedition of note passed 
through the same district two years later ; this was led by 
the brothers Grum Grjimailo — naturalists — who pub- 
lished their results in three fine volumes, in which they 
have a good deal to say on the subject of the far Eastern 
Tian Shan, where they worked for some time on their 
way to Western China. 

In 1892, we have to record the visit of the botanist 
Kriloff to the region of the sources of the Upper Yenisei ; 
but his account does not amount to much beyond a 
laboriously kept diary. Pozdnyeff, a student of anthro- 
pology and archaeology, carried on work at the same 
time in the countries between Urga and Kobdo. 


The following year Kozloff, an explorer of great parts, 
came into the arena. When serving under Roborovsky, 
Kozloff surveyed in the Hami region on his way back 
from greater labours in Western China ; a few years 
later he again took the field and put finishing-touches 
to the maps of the Eastern Altai ranges before crossing 
the central portion of the Great Gobi. These last 
journeys extended over the years 1899-1900; since then, 
in 1908-9, Kozloff has again worked in the central Gobi 
and in Southern Mongolia. 

At about this date (1895), Borodaile, of the Indian 
Civil Service, the first Englishman to visit the site of 
the ancient Karakorum, proceeded from Pekin to Kobdo 
and gave us some account of that portion of Mongolia. 
In 1898-9, an account was published of the Importance 
of the Uriankhai Country to Southern Siberia, by Os- 
trovsky, containing the results of a research into the 
economic conditions of the Upper Yenisei basin. Another 
general description of this out-of-the-way region was 
published by Paikoff. The last visitor to these regions 
was M. Paul Chalon, who in 1904 rode from the Minnu- 
sinsk steppes to the Kemchik Valley in the western 
portion of the basin. 

During the last eight years the work has been of a 
more concentrated type, the finishing-off in careful detail 
of roughly mapped areas. Obrucheff, after great 
achievements in the Southern Gobi and Ala Shan, set 
to work in 1905-6 to thoroughly explore the Northern 
border-ranges of Dzungaria, the Barlik and Sair groups ; 
and in 1909 Sapoznikoff carried out surveys in the Altai, 
in the region of the sources of the Black Irtish and 
Kobdo Rivers. 


The Altai Highlands have long attracted the 
attention of travellers, and of these perhaps the 
veteran is Prof. Sapoznikoff, who for fifteen years has 
made profound researches into the geology, botany, and 
physical geography of these alpine regions. Until 1905 
his work lay in the true Russian Altai, but between 
1 905-1 909 he investigated the long chain which he calls 
the Mongolian Altai (but which is generally misnamed 
on our maps the " Great Altai "), and which extends in 
a south-easterly direction into Chinese territory. The 
results of his journeys have recently been published at 
Tomsk, and this book includes so many different branches 
of science that it must take its place as the standard 
work on the Mongolian Altai. This range divides Mon- 
golia from Dzungaria, and the story of its exploration 
affects our narrative in that, after hunting for some 
time on its north-eastern slopes, we crossed the heart of 
the main range into Dzungaria. 

The antiquities of North-west Mongolia and of the 
Upper Yenisei basin received full attention from M. 
Grano in 1906. Since then specialists at the universities 
of Siberia have been busy working out the material 
collected on this subject by various travellers. 

Apart from this, two journeys of importance have 
been accomplished in the northern parts of Mongolia — 
notably, by Major de Lacoste, who visited the interesting 
valley of the Tess whilst on his way from Urga to Kobdo, 
and by Dr. Paquet, who went, in 1908, from Kobdo to the 
Lake Kossogol. These were the most recent travellers 
in the northern portion of the region under discussion. 
During the last six years a few explorers have, however, 
touched on the southern edge of our region. Of these, 


Dr. Aurel Stein and Mr. Clementi claim prior attention 
on account of the thoroughness of their work. At Hami 
and on the southern slopes of the Karlik Tagh, our 
surveys and descriptions overlap with Stein's work, as 
described in Chapter LXXXI. of his recent book, Ruins 
of Desert Cathay, dementi's work only affects ours in 
that, at this point (Hami) his complete series of astro- 
nomical observations carried out systematically across 
the whole width of China from Kashgar to Kowloon 
(Hong-Kong), must be recognized as the most reliable. 

In the winter of 1909 Lieut. Etherton rode along 
the north-western frontier of Dzungaria, between Kulja 
and the Altai, and during our own journey we came 
across Colonel Pereira, who was also traversing this 
region previous to carrying out further explorations in 
Western China. On the southern border-ranges — the 
Tian Shan and Bogdo-ola — we are dependent upon the 
detailed and most careful researches of Dr. Merzbacher, 
who explored the alpine region of the Eastern Tian 
Shan in 1909. 

From this rough survey of previous exploration, it 
will be seen that the country has been visited by numerous 
travellers, the great majority of whom were Russian. A 
certain number of these travellers published accounts 
(the majority did not do so), and from these, many of 
them scanty and ill-written journals, we have to extract 
all information. Apart from this, our region remains un- 
touched and undescribed. In order to make our account 
of the region as complete as possible, and to give a fair 
idea of these vast stretches of country, which are to all 
intents and purposes an unknown land to the English 
reader, I am trying to put on record all the information 


I can possibly collect from our own carefully kept diaries 
and from those of previous travellers. 

Our journey was accomplished and the greater part 
of this account written, before the proclaiming of an inde- 
pendent Mongolia. The conditions of the Upper Yenisei 
basin are here described as they were in 1910, but it 
will be noticed that a vague impression of coming change 
permeates the whole narrative. In the early part of 
this book I have made no reference to the new influences, 
but in the later chapters — especially Chapter X — I have 
supplemented our experiences by allusions to the new 
state of affairs. On the whole, this account must be 
taken as a study of the local conditions up to the year 



" In Asia, where everything is immoderate, where a 
forest covers a kingdom, where a river deposits a country 
in a decade, and where man grows feeble from an abiding 
sense that Nature is too strong for him." No matter 
by which door Asia is entered, the truth of this forces 
itself upon us and we experience an overpowering sense 
of illimitable space, of nature built upon a colossal scale. 
Whether we catch our first glimpse of Asia from an 
Indian port and encounter the crowded millions of a 
delta, whether our introduction to the great continent 
is by the thousand-mile waterway of a Chinese river, 
or whether by way of the immeasurable steppes of 
Siberia or the sands of a Persian desert, the impression 
left upon us is always the same — one of inexpressible 

Asia does everything in an exaggerated manner. 
She holds in certain localities the densest population 
per square mile in the world, and yet in others she 
shows illimitable expanses of poor lands entirely un- 
inhabited. Asia can be discussed without mention even 
being made of China, yet the Celestial Empire, although 
representing only a corner of Asia, holds a third of the 
human race. It is difficult to believe that Persia, Japan, 
Mongolia, and Arabia are part of the same continent, 




such contradictions of race, climate, scenery, and religion 
do these lands possess. Who does not wonder at the 
close proximity and yet entire distinctiveness of the 
Aryan, Semitic, and Yellow races ? In what way does 
the fearless believer in one God — the Arab of the sun- 
lit desert — compare with the timid Shammanist, — the 
nature-worshipper of the dark Siberian forests ? Strange 
it is that this one continent should have given birth to 
a Christ, a Mohammed, a Gautama, and yet is able to 
produce the Ethics of Confucius, and the teaching of 

In this continent of paradox and surprise, men's 
minds have not only plunged into peculiar depths of 
thought, but have also shown a strange originality and 
a restless activity. The physical and ethnographical 
phenomena of the whole continent are on the same 
scale, and possess the same paradoxical quality, for a 
strange sense of proportion seems to pervade all Asia. 
Her calamities and catastrophes conform to her gigantic 
size, the very works of Nature run riot, and the so- 
called " acts of God " are here rehearsed with an 
unparalleled and relentless severity. Her wars and 
migrations, disasters and massacres have been on a scale 
at once so terrible and so overwhelming, that they would 
be scarcely credited in the West. 

From all points of view her aspect is an exaggerated 
one, as is shown by the size of her rivers and mountains, 
by the multitude of her peoples, by the variety and 
strength of her religions, by her very joys and sorrows, 
which find no such parallel elsewhere. Asia is the 
continent of extremes—" no contrast is too great for 
her, no antithesis too profound " — the cold, bleak 
voids of Mongolia compare strangely with the steamy 


jungles of Burmah, and the sandy deserts of Transcaspia 
contrast with tropical India and fertile Siberia. The 
distribution of her peoples conforms to her peculiar 
physiography and gives rise to exceptional examples of 
racial dispersion. The same nomad tribe, for instance, 
is found in possession from the Caspian Sea to the Altai 
Mountains — a distance of half a continent, — and yet 
a different race may be met with in every other valley 
in Western China. 

Asia also teems with exceptional studies and problems 
for the mind of the politician. China, the oldest nation, 
which is still a nation, stands as she has stood for three 
thousand years, and still holds her own against Western 
intrigue ; while, on the other hand, the dismembered 
states of medieval India have been welded into a whole, 
and enrolled as part of a Western Empire. Greedy 
hands are stretching out from the West to seize any 
available territory, yet independent native States still 
exist, defiant and untouched. 

The West has always eagerly devoured all available 
knowledge concerning Asia, her peculiar charm and 
unfathomable mystery possessing an unusual fascination 
for the prosaic European. Untouched fields of research 
still remain, and undescribed portions of Asia still await 
the appreciative traveller. One small portion of Asia 
in particular, Outer Mongolia, is far less known than the 
rest. This comparatively small area, it is true, occupies 
650,000 square miles, and its scenery is composed of 
mountains and deserts, plateaux, forests, and sand- 
dunes ; a land of infinite variety, of pleasing prospect 
and repellent monotony. It is this region which I 
intend to describe. 

We first faced Asia from the watershed of the Ural 


Mountains, which divides East from West. Here we 
entered a plain as big as Europe, which plain we traversed 
in a no more romantic manner than in the luxurious car 
of a Siberian express. This represented the first stage 
of our journey and the one by which we should most 
quickly reach the heart of the continent. We were on 
our way across Siberia, and, after leaving Riga, on the 
stormy Baltic, and experiencing five days' travelling 
over level plain-lands, we entered a rolling country of 
forested hills, an inviting land of pleasing aspect, and 
halted on the bank of the Great Yenisei. 

We were anxiously awaiting our first glimpse of the 

great waterway, it being our intention to use it as a means 

of transport for some hundreds of miles farther up stream, 

but, alas ! we found it to be still frozen solid. Even at 

this late date (April 23rd) — for the rivers of Siberia are 

generally open for traffic by mid-April — we found carts 

being driven across its frozen surface. We had expected 

to find Siberia a land bursting into spring after the 

long, relentless winter J; but we were disappointed in 

our hope. When we had left England the may-trees 

were showing leaf in the London squares, when crossing 

Russia we were conscious of no throw-back into winter, 

but here in the heart of the continent, far away from 

the mellowing influence of the sea, the land was still 

held in the iron grasp of winter. 

On April 23rd, when standing on the banks of the 
Yenisei watching the traffic crossing and recrossing the 
ice, the river-steamers which we had hoped to use as far 
as the town of Minnusinsk, 250 miles up-stream, showed 
us as yet no sign of summer-work. They lay ice-bound 
beside the quays awaiting the break-up of the ice. To 
the north stretched open and almost snowless steppes, 


to the south rose a hill-country where the snow still 
lay in patches amongst the open forest. Under these 
changed conditions it became necessary to transport 
ourselves and our kit, by road, over these hills to the 
plain of Minnusinsk beyond. 

In our endeavours to obtain information as to the most 
feasible route from Siberia to the Uriankhai country 
at the sources of the Upper Yenisei, we had found it 
advisable to examine the whole of the region between 
the Russian Altai and Lake Baikal. Along this region 
extends a line of mountainous country — the northern 
edge of the Mongolian plateau, which abuts on the 
plain of Southern Siberia. This mountainous country 
stretches in a south-westerly direction and is fairly 
continuous all the way from Manchuria to the Tian 
Shan Mountains of Turkestan. Between the Altai and 
Lake Baikal the country is somewhat difficult and un- 
known. The outer border-range, which represents the 
first step up to the plateau, is composed of the Syansk 
Mountains ; beyond these mountains lies the secluded 
basin where issue the sources of the Yenisei, and beyond 
this again is the second step, the Tannu-ola range, which 
leads up on to the true plateau of Mongolia proper. 
This mountain-girt basin, lying between the Syansk and 
Tannu-ola, we call the Uriankhai country, after the 
name of the only indigenous tribe inhabiting it. 

In two places only do the Siberian plains connect 
with the Uriankhai country so as to give more or less 
easy access to that difficult and remote region, where 
the three main sources of the Great Yenisei have their 
birth. The traveller who wishes to reach the highest 
sources of the Yenisei has the choice of two routes. It 
appeared, from information which we gathered, that 


we might attempt our goal by way of Irkutsk on the 
east, or from Minnusinsk on the north. The Irkutsk 
route is the most difficult and the one most seldom used ; 
this track leads over very rough country by way of Lake 
Kossogol to the uppermost sources of the Khua-kem 
and Bei-kem — main heads of the Yenisei waters. From 
Minnusinsk, on the other hand, we had the option of 
three tracks which lead southwards across the Syansk 
Mountains. This choice of routes led us to determine 
on Minnusinsk as a starting-point, and consequently, 
being baulked in our efforts to reach it by way of the 
Yenisei, we were forced to retrace our steps to Achinsk, 
some ninety miles to the west, from which town a post- 
road runs southwards towards the Mongol frontier. 

A glance here at the romantic story of the Russian 
penetration of Siberia is not out of place. Geography 
is the handmaid of history ; these sister sciences are so 
closely bound up, they divulge each other in so marked 
a degree, that it is almost impossible to speak of the one 
without touching on the other. When Yermak and his 
unruly followers burst into the great Siberian unknown, 
they found it inhabited by fiercer and more worthy foes 
than the present indigenous races. Side by side with 
the poor, cowardly Ostiaks and other tribes, were the 
progressive and valiant Tartars ; for this reason, the 
Russian conquest of Siberia was not so easy as it might 
have appeared to be, under the present state of affairs. 
Siberia was not won without much cost. Doughty deeds 
were wrought by the first pioneers of her wilds, for the 
Tartars and Tunguses were worthy foes, and the stories 
of their battles against the Russians are crowded with 
adventure of the most exciting kind. 

We read, with a glow of savage pleasure, of their 


forays and their lines of block-houses, and of the treasure- 
hunting parties of independent Cossacks ; how loyally 
the stout Tunguses and Buriats held out against the 
waves of invasion and kept their independence, for 
between twenty and thirty years, before being absorbed 
by the Russian Empire. Tempted by wealth of 
furs, many an independent expedition set out to 
explore and to trade through the bleak northern wastes. 
Many a tragedy must have been witnessed, many atro- 
cities have been committed, yet, in spite of much suffer- 
ing, borne with stubborn valour, in spite of disease and 
death, these hardy freebooters were not turned back, 
and eventually they won the crowning reward of Empire. 

Yermak in a few years subdued vast areas of Siberia. 
In 1556 the Irtish and Altai districts were settled with 
bands of soldier-colonists, and in 1620 the Russian ad- 
vance held the Yenisei. Then began, slowly but surely, 
the great and methodical Russianization of the nameless 
but limitless territory lying to the north of the present 
railway, and eventually the richer portions lying to the 
south became filled with the ever-advancing bands 
of colonists and exiles. By 1728 — less than 150 years 
after the first crossing of the Ural Mountains, the Rus- 
sians had accomplished their first experimental explora- 
tion of Asia, and with characteristic insatiability were 
starting afresh upon North America. 

The open nature of Northern Asia, the vast extent 
of plain-lands without mountain barriers, rendered it suit- 
able to quick and certain colonization by a great and 
virile people. With amazing rapidity the Russian pene- 
trated to the farthest corners of Siberia and Central 
Asia, with the result that he is now as much at home 
in fertile, semi-tropical Turkestan, amongst the ruined 


civilization of Tamerlane, as he is in Kamchatka or at 
Verkhoyansk, the coldest spot in the world. Many 
advantages aid him in his success in colonization. 
For instance, the same language is spoken from Moscow 
to the Pacific ; one religion binds him — this same creed 
is slowly absorbing the pagan tribes he has conquered ; 
and one government holds its fatherly hand equally over 
all. The accessibility of Siberia has caused it to be 
over-run by the first new-comers, and has accounted 
for the slow but sure absorption of the indigenous tribes. 
Except for the northern tundra, which preserves the 
remnant of the Samoyede races, there are no mountain 
refuges or desert retreats to protect the native races 
from a complete Russianization. The mountains to 
the south, however, the plateaux of Mongolia, the 
forests of the inter-Altai-Baikal region, with their 
corresponding varied scenery and climate — these will be 
the last home of those tribes which manage to survive 
the inroads of Russia from the north and of China 
from the south. 

Siberia in these days presents the spectacle of a 
country in the throes of a slow re-birth. The Russian 
is now established in the remotest corners of Northern 
Asia ; he has connected up the whole region between 
the Urals and the Pacific with a net-work of post-roads, 
he has cut through the great continent by means of one 
long railway, he has placed steamboats on all the navig- 
able rivers, created many towns of considerable import- 
ance — although somewhat far-removed from each other 
— and caused immense tracts of country to become 
populated and cultivated. But even so, vast areas remain 
untouched, pregnant lands await the hand of the agri- 
culturist, and mineral wealth patiently awaits develop- 


ment. In spite of the fact that Russia possesses the 
most prolific race in Europe, and the population, it is 
said, doubles itself in sixty years, Siberia succeeds in 
tempting only a comparatively small number of the 
people from the home-land. Russia is not yet over- 
crowded, but can still provide room for her surplus 
population without resorting to Siberia as a colony. 

Some of the finest and most promising districts of 
Siberia are situated along the frontier of China, where 
the almost continuous mountain-barrier stretches from 
the Pamirs to Manchuria. The northern slopes of these 
ranges are particularly favourable to colonization, and 
the immigrants have established themselves in snug 
settlements extending the whole length of the frontier. 
On the Chinese side, the Celestials are not absent, in 
spite of the natural conditions being very much poorer. 

We experienced the worst of roads and seasons on 
our drive from Achinsk to Minnusinsk. I remember 
tracks of slush, mud, and melting snow, tedious stages 
at a snail's-pace, and numerous river-crossings, extremely 
unsafe in character. By April 27th the rivers at this 
latitude were beginning to break. The Chulim, for ex- 
ample, which we crossed twice, was especially dangerous, 
a flooded bank and an ice-laden main-channel making 
it difficult to embark our kit into the two flimsy canoes, 
which ferried it across the tide in relays. 

On leaving Achinsk, we passed for the first stage 
through hills and forests ; the country then became more 
monotonous — a land of rolling steppe and occasional 
birch-groves. This continued the whole way up to the 
Upper Chulim, where we entered a more barren and 
truer steppe. In this locality forests were absent, with 
the exception of a few straggling pines and birches on 


the hill-tops, the type of scenery assuming a more " Cen- 
tral Asiatic " and a more arid appearance. The presence 
of herds of horses and cattle seemed to point to a 
nomadic condition of life. Here, for the first time, we 
saw signs of an ancient race which had lived, multiplied, 
and eventually passed away, leaving nothing behind 
beyond innumerable proofs of its distribution, in the 
shape of gigantic grave-mounds, or "tumuli." 

The open nature of this country was a remarkable 
feature ; with the exception of a few belts of pines, 
which had been planted by the colonists round about 
the larger villages, we saw no forests. Yet, at the back 
of the steppe conditions, prevalent at the present day, 
we discovered the existence of an ancient forest, the 
remnant of which remained in isolated and sorry clumps 
clinging to the hill-tops. This steppe-zone extends 
right up to the foot-hills of the Syansk Mountains, where, 
on account of its proximity to rain-producing area, 
it becomes more fertile and more productive of a heavier 
vegetation, until finally it merges into dense pine-forests 
of vast extent. 

Our route led us southwards over rolling hill-country, 
and it was not until we reached the summit of that narrow 
ridge, which separates the Yenisei from the Chulim 
River — that short six miles which divides the two great 
river-systems, the Yenisei and the Ob-Irtish, — that we 
came within view of the plain of Minnusinsk. For 
this well-favoured and historical region is a hill-girt 
basin, cut off from the open Siberian plain-lands. From 
a grassy slope we looked across foot-hills dotted with 
innumerable tumuli, to the white, curving line of the 
Yenisei River, which meandered through a wide and 
fertile plain ; far away at the back we could just discern 

1 S5 


I o 

I W 

I w 




. it 


the faint outline of the Syansk Mountains, with dark- 
forested slopes, and glistening, snow-patched summits. 

The impression we gained on entering the vale of 
Minnusinsk would have been the same, had we come 
by water instead of by land from Krasnoyarsk. Imme- 
diately upon leaving Krasnoyarsk the traveller passes, 
up-stream, through frowning gorges and fine rock- 
scenery ; anon, the country widens out, the river winds 
in majestic sweeps, receiving giant affluents from the 
east ; and later, upon reaching the plain of Minnusinsk, 
the traveller by boat finds the Yenisei to be of lake-like 
appearance, dotted with sand-banks and islets. Farther 
than Minnusinsk the Yenisei is not used for navigation. 
Fifty miles southwards, the foothills of the Syansk Moun- 
tains close in and the river passes through deep-cut, 
frowning gorges. Here, its course is broken by a series 
of rapids, which forbid navigation up-stream, and only 
allow the bold Siberian fishermen to come down in record 
time by raft from the quiet upper reaches, that lie at 
the back of that forbidding wall of crag and precipice. 

The Yenisei, close to the town of Minnusinsk, where 
we crossed it, was a fine river in one great channel of four 
hundred yards in width. At that date, the 1st of May, 
it had a most interesting appearance, and our experience 
in crossing it shows the peculiar nature of these immense 
Siberian waterways, which rise in China and flow out to 
the Arctic Ocean. We found it to be sufficiently broken 
and free of ice to allow the passage of canoes from bank 
to bank, except for a narrow margin of ice on either side. 
But the shingly banks were piled high with gigantic 
blocks of ice, and broken floes were drifting down the 
current in such a manner, as to make it necessary for the 
boatmen to choose the right moment when to pole their 


flimsy, dug-out canoes, without mishap, across the flood, 
and to dodge the large and dangerous drift-ice. At that 
season the water was very low, and the banks showed 
that the river would measure another twenty-five yards 
across, at average water-level. 

It appears that the Siberian rivers begin to break 
at their most southerly points. Even at Krasnoyarsk, 
250 miles farther north, the river would not be open for 
navigation for another two weeks. Farther north 
still, the date of breaking becomes later, and the actual 
mouths of these rivers, which feed the Arctic Ocean, are 
only free from ice for about three months out of the 
twelve. It must indeed be a wonderful sight when the 
accumulated mass of ice, covering the whole length of 
some thousands of miles of frozen waterway, collects and 
jams at the mouth, until immense pressure bursts the 
barrier. Seebohm, who watched this " revolution of 
the ice " at a point on the river within the Arctic Circle, 
describes it graphically as " the battle of the Yenisei.' ' 
At the point mentioned the great river did not begin 
to break until the very end of May, and it took two weeks 
of warfare between the ice-barrier and the floes from 
the upper reaches, before the river cleared itself to the 
ocean. This means that the Yenisei is in a state of 
siege for some two months before its waters run free from 
the grasp of the ice. 

During the first week in June, Seebohm and his 
valiant companion, Captain Wiggin, who was the first to 
make the northern passage from Europe to the heart of 
Siberia, watched the Yenisei rising and falling in accord 
with the respective jams and bursts of the accumulating 
ice. Where islands or sharp bends in the river's course 
served as obstacles, mountains of huge ice-blocks col- 


lected and piled themselves up as the water rose. Eventu- 
ally the main river reached such a height that it actually 
began to flow back up its own affluents, following the line 
of least resistance. Pressure from behind forced this 
wonderful flood of pack-ice and floes up the stream of the 
tributaries at the rate of five to six miles an hour. The 
ice dammed up the water behind it until the pressure 
was sufficiently great, then the barrier broke and the 
level of the water fell. Seebohm reckoned that some 
50,000 acres of ice passed him during that week, and 
remarks that " some idea of what the pressure must 
have been may be realized by the fact that a part 
of the river, a thousand miles long, beginning with a 
width of two miles and ending with a width of six miles, 
covered over with ice three feet thick, upon which was 
lying six feet of snow, was broken up at the rate of a 
hundred miles a day." This battle of the Yenisei raged 
for two weeks, and during that period the season changed 
from midwinter to midsummer. 

The Yenisei claims respect on account of its size. 
From the limit of its farthest source to its entrance into 
the Arctic Ocean, the river attains a length of close 
on four thousand miles; it has a drainage area only 
exceeded in Asia by the Ob-Irtish system, and vies with 
the Nile, the Amazon, and the Mississippi for the proud 
distinction of being the longest river in the world. At 
Krasnoyarsk, which is 1,700 miles from the sea, where 
we first saw the Yenisei, its banks are a thousand 
yards apart ; farther north the river widens to over a 
mile, and eventually broadens, at its mouth, to the 
amazing width of one hundred miles. 1 Unfortunately 
its use is not in proportion to its size, for climatic 

1 The name Yenisei is of Tunguse origin, and means " wide water." 


conditions, and the peculiarity of the land-surface only 
allow some four thousand miles of its total water-area 
to be used for steam -navigation. 

We achieved the crossing without mishap, in the 
space of three hours, and, once on the east bank of the 
Yenisei, made good pace to the chief town of the district, 
Minnusinsk, which lies on a back-water of the main river. 
Minnusinsk we found to be the chief mart of agriculture 
and the centre of trade of a large district, including the 
cultivated plains that surround the town and the almost 
untouched lands, — awaiting development, in the way of 
mineral wealth and commercial enterprise, — which ex- 
tend to the south. 

The chief asset to this region is its remarkably mild 
climate as compared with the severity of climate of the 
rest of Siberia. Here no great and sudden changes of tem- 
perature hinder the crops and kill off the herds, such as 
so often happens on the unprotected Siberian plain. 1 
Gentle rains lessen the risk of summer drought, and 
cause the land to produce crops in abundance, without 
the use of manure. M. Chalon gives the temperatures 
I have quoted, and also states that the land yields 

1 According to Russian observations, the average temperatures at 
Minnusinsk are as follows : 

Winter . . 6° Fahr. (January is the coldest month) 

Spring . . 43° „ 

Summer . . 67 ,, (July the hottest month) 

Autumn . . 22 ,, 

The rainfall, from observations extending over eleven years, averages: 

Winter . . '86 in. 

Spring . . 2'i6 ,, 

Summer . . 5*56 „ 

Autumn . .2*64 ,, 

The mean yearly rainfall is put at 11-3 in. in the neighbourhood of 
Minnusinsk, but this increases in a marked degree as we travel south- 
wards or eastwards towards the mountains. Forty-three miles to the east 
of Minnusinsk the mean yearly rainfall increases to 21*2 in. 


twenty-two hundredweight per two-and-a-half acres, 
which is about half the average yield for the United 
Kingdom. In fact, the prairie region of Minnusinsk 
is said to be the most attractive and fruitful in all 
Siberia, and we are inclined to believe this to be the 
case. The scenery is varied by lakes, mountains, rivers, 
and forests; the interesting and somewhat picturesque 
Tartars live side by side with the Siberian colonists ; and 
the early history of this district still invites research. 

This happy valley stretches over an area of about 
15,000 square miles on either bank of the Yenisei River, 
and is enclosed on the south by the Syansk Mountains, 
and on the east, north, and west by ranges of lower 
altitude, but of a sufficiently protective nature. The 
floor of the basin averages about 800 ft. above sea-level — 
remarkably low for its place in the heart of the continent. 
Across this alluvial plain of recognized richness flows the 
drainage from the wide area of mountain-ranges to the 
south. The main Yenisei, which collects the entire 
drainage of the Upper Yenisei basin, together with the 
Abakan, and the giant Tuba; all unite to water the 
Minnusinsk steppe. 

These conditions, no doubt, account for the high 
state of civilization attained in the old days by the 
ancient indigenous races of this valley. In these days 
the presence of a thriving town like Minnusinsk showed 
a prosperous colony, living in a pregnant land, full of 
future possibilities. We spent ten days in this town, 
collecting information, buying stores, and bargaining for 
horses. The markets were full — here could be pur- 
chased almost every article obtainable in the great towns 
of Siberia. It possessed a bank, a museum of note, a 
hospital, schools, and a library. There was an atmosphere 


of development about Minnusinsk, as if she were well 
aware of what is in store for her in the future. Yet, in 
spite of her 10,000 inhabitants and the diligence with 
which we tried to obtain knowledge, we gained but little 
information in regard to the region lying beyond the culti- 
vated plains. The mountains to the south were apparently 
beyond the limits of the imagination of the people of 
Minnusinsk, except for fairy-tales of the gold-fields there, 
which they delighted to relate to us. 

Beyond Minnusinsk, southwards, there are numerous 
prosperous villages, but only one settlement of import- 
ance — the frontier station of Usinsk. The position of this 
small town marks for the traveller the easiest track into 
the region beyond. Situated as it is beyond the plain, 
hidden in a narrow valley between the Aradansk range 
and the main Syansk, it owes its existence solely to the 
presence of gold-mines and to the fact that it lies on the 
only open road, which connects the province of Yeniseisk 
with the Upper Yenisei basin and Mongolia beyond. We 
had reason to study the land-features very minutely, in 
searching for the best way to reach those further regions. 
The Usinsk route seemed to be the only authorized one. 
All official dealings with the frontier were in the hands 
of the Russian " Natchalnik " in that town. All travellers 
and traders have need to pass through it, and to take 
their permits from that official. In point of fact, this 
line of communication is the most direct, but by no 
means the easiest. 

From Minnusinsk a cart-track leads southwards for 
about eighty-three miles, as far as the village of Gre- 
gorievski (or Dzelome) ; from there a rough trail runs over 
the Aradansk range, an offshoot of the main Syansk, 
to Usinsk. From this town two routes lead to the 






basin beyond the Syansk, one to the east which runs to 
the Uiuk Valley, and one to the south to Cha-kul. Both 
necessitate a crossing of the Syansk, and the tracks reach 
an altitude of 6,500 ft. above sea-level. The drawback 
to this route is that, in May, the snow is still lying deep in 
the forests, and, as the track runs through them for many 
miles, and crosses two ranges of mountains, it is no light 

The route which is earliest open is that which leads 
from Minnusinsk to the south-west, up the valley of 
the Abakan, and over the western Syansk range into 
the Kemchik portion of the Uriankhai country. One 
hundred and six miles of this track can be used for 
wheeled traffic, beyond this a much more open type of 
country, with less forest, renders it the most feasible in the 
early months. But neither of these routes attracted us. 
For one reason, they led to the wrong end of the basin — 
the western or lower portion, whereas our aim was to 
explore the uppermost regions far to the east and 
up-stream. In a country where transport was so difficult, 
it seemed impracticable for us to add to an already 
lengthy programme by involving ourselves in heart- 
breaking and laborious " packing " through dense forests, 
in preference to the easy river-transport down-stream. 

We determined therefore to strike due east from 
Minnusinsk, and descend into the basin at its least known 
point, and then, on the completion of our work there, to 
utilize these fine water-ways and to glide down-stream 
to the central region. It was only after persistent ques- 
tioning that we found a well-recognized route, leading 
in the direction suitable to us. Seventy miles of plain 
would take us to the last village — Kushabar, in the 
valley of the Amil ; from there a track used by hunters 


and gold-miners ran up the Amil and over the Syansk 
range to our goal. 

But, on deciding that this should be our route, we 
had yet to deal with the technicalities of Russian bureau- 
cracy. " That is an absurd route to take," they said ; 
" nobody goes that road. The track to Usinsk will be 
easy in a week or two ; why take a difficult one ? " The 
passports necessary for that region were only obtainable 
from the officials of Usinsk, and, as even the officials of 
Minnusinsk were not in a position to take the responsi- 
bility of allowing us to proceed and to leave Russian 
territory for China, the whole matter had to go before 
the Governor-General of the province of Yeniseisk at 
Krasnoyarsk. Eventually, however, we were permitted 
to make our way out of Siberia by the Amil route. 

During this period of delay, we had occupied ourselves 
by preparing our kit and making inquiries about trans- 
port. In order to avoid putting up the price of horses 
by purchasing our caravan at one spot, we divided our 
demands between here and the villages on the Amil. 
Every day a mixed crowd of horse-dealers — Siberians 
and Tartars, gathered near our lodgings, and tried the 
usual tricks of the trade. The horses they brought 
for our inspection were of a good but mongrel type, — 
Siberian-Tartar and Mongol being characteristics which 
included a rather too heavy build for hill-work. Price, 
who is a well-known figure with the Ledbury hunt, tried 
their paces and tested their qualities down the main 
street of Minnusinsk, whilst the owners suggested that 
their horses were not accustomed to be so ridden ! By 
degrees we got hold of twelve horses at an average cost 
of £4 each. 

Here too, besides the purchase of numerous stores, 


we had to draw all the money that was necessary for the 
cost of our journey during the next five or six months. 
Our next banking town would be Chuguchak on the 
frontier of Semipalatinsk, a distance of 1,500 miles away. 
The uncertainties of the road, and how far money would 
go, made it difficult to estimate the expenses ; but, as 
luck would have it, we were destined to find a country 
where money was scarcely appreciated — in Mongolia 
men stared blankly at the Russian notes, and we came 
through well on the safe side. We carried a consider- 
able amount in gold and silver, and the remainder in 
rouble notes. 

Our journey onwards from Minnusinsk to the foot- 
hills of the Syansk Mountains much resembled the 
journey from the railway. We found thriving villages 
and colonies of Russians, for this eastern side of the 
basin is without that Tartar element which is predomi- 
nant on the west in the Abakan steppe. The Abakan 
Tartars, by the way, are a good example of the ability, 
Russia shows in westernizing the Eastern. Here you may 
see Tartars of ancient race turned into devout members 
of the Orthodox Faith, dressed more or less in Russian 
costume, and living, many of them, in villages of Siberian 
aspect. Yet they hold to their old customs and mode of 
life. They still live by herding their immense droves of 
horses and cattle; some even still use the felt-yurt, or 
log-built reconstructions of the same. 

Once in the Amil Valley, we got a clear view of the 
country that lay ahead of us, and were conscious of the 
marked change in the natural features of the Minnusinsk 
basin, which begins on its southern and eastern edges. 
After thousands of miles of steppe — endless, monotonous 
steppe — stretching interminably from the distant Baltic, 


across Russia and Siberia, the face of the land at last 
altered. The plains, heaving in great wave-like folds, led 
onwards to foot-hills, which finally rose to highlands and 
rugged mountain-tops. To the south and to the east 
a mountainous country barred the way, forming not 
only a refuge for strange tribes, but serving as a vague 
boundary to the Chinese Empire. This was the most 
northern wall of the great Mongolian Plateau. 

We crossed the Amil River on May 15th, where there 
was a good ferry, across a somewhat turbid flood of a 
hundred yards in width. Close to the eastern bank began 
that solid, impenetrable zone of forest which limited 
both cultivation and human progress in this direction. 
The first view of the " taiga " is a wonderful and im- 
pressive sight — as amazing as is a first impression of 
tropical jungle or papyrus-swamp ; something intangible, 
mysterious, inviting inspection, but unpleasant to 
experience. The blank wall of dense forest which 
rose up ahead of us held all the country east of the 
Amil in its grasp, with a strength that no other natural 
force could exhibit. For well-nigh three hundred miles 
it stretches eastwards to the neighbourhood of Lake 
Baikal. Rugged mountains and big rivers add to the 
difficulties of penetration. Uninhabited and foodless, 
this forest-zone presents a problem of strenuous work to 
the explorer or to the prospecter. Small wonder, then, 
that the country is unmapped, that the mountains are 
nameless. We soon learnt to respect its impenetrable 
fastness. The forest phalanx is so dense and so unbroken, 
its area so immense, that no astonishment arises at its 
power to hinder the advance of man. 

Kushabar, the little village situated on its outer 
fringe, is an old settlement with a prosperous and in- 


creasing population ; yet, during seventy years, it has not 
advanced one half-mile to the south towards the forest- 
region. The dark wall of pines rises in an unbroken 
line beyond the meadows and corn-land. It remains 
the same to-day as it was a thousand years ago. The 
villagers fell the timber on the outskirts for their own 
use, the hunters penetrate into its innermost depths in 
search of the valuable sable, but its borders are inviolate 
as yet from the rapid march of man across Siberia. 



The whole of the black-soil region of Southern Siberia, 
was at one time particularly favourable for the growth 
of a dense population of primitive races. At the 
period when Western Siberia, Turkestan and the Dzun- 
garian plains were one vast sheet of water, forming a 
great mid-continental sea, the climate would not have 
been of such extreme opposites as it is at the present day ; 
warmer and damper conditions would have given a more 
abundant vegetation and a more congenial climatic 
condition, suitable to the well-being of primitive man. 
No such ice-age troubled mid-Siberia as retarded the 
advance of Western Europe, and on this account the 
rapidity of the progress of man was here probably far 
greater ; the mammoth and rhinoceros roamed these 
lands until that great Asiatic Mediterranean disappeared, 
and further alteration in the climate — from temperate 
to excessive cold — brought about radical changes in the 
human and animal life of inner Siberia. 

The Minnusinsk district, and the country bordering 
on the middle Yenisei seem to have been the head- 
quarters of these early races. Although Southern Siberia 
was never the seat of an empire, yet it is so rich in the 
remains of prehistoric peoples that the region must have 

been exceptionally suitable to the rise of early man, and 

4 8 


the development, later on, of civilized tribes. It was the 
home of a race which attained to a considerable height 
of intelligence, which learnt the use of metals and the 
art of agriculture, but which was eventually driven out 
by invaders from the south, who replaced it, and 
who, on account of a change in the climatic conditions, 
lived a nomadic life instead of the settled life required 
for practising agriculture. The first signs we came across 
of this ancient race were the tumuli, " Kurgans," or 
grave-mounds, which we encountered just north of our 
second crossing of the Chulim River, — at the point where 
the good, open, grazing country commenced. From here 
onwards to Minnusinsk, and even southwards for some 
forty miles beyond that town, we found the country 
full of historical remains. 

Let us recall the past, and search far back down 
the dim vistas of time, in order to find out the origin of 
these tumuli and gain an insight into the history of 
ancient Siberia. Before the dawn of history Southern 
Siberia was evidently occupied by a dense population, 
who merged by slow and successive stages from the Stone 
Age to a knowledge of the working of bronze and iron, 
leaving us a veritable museum of their handiwork in the 
tombs and tumuli of the steppe. Who these earliest 
inhabitants were, how deeply their culture extended, and 
whether they were one and the same people with those 
who evolved from the bronze to the Iron Age, we know 
not and probably will never know. Students have 
classified these unknown people under the broad title of 
Yeniseians, or Tubas, whilst the less-learned colonists 
call them the " Chudes," or " strangers." 

All we know of these people is at the stage when they 
were in an embryo state, emerging slowly from the neo- 


lithic age. They apparently acquired considerable know- 
ledge of husbandry, and of workings in metals, and their 
rock-drawings testify that they herded reindeer, cattle, 
and camels. They used bronze implements, and could 
work in gold and silver ; but they were ignorant of the 
use of iron, the knowledge of which came later with an 
influx of newcomers from the south. These were the 
people who raised the tumuli over their dead, and 
whose custom of burying personal belongings in the 
graves, left us valuable information as to the condition of 
culture they had reached. We know nothing as to the 
length of time this race held their own, nor through what 
stages of mingling with other races they passed. The 
knowledge of their existence is simply proved by the 

This was a period of great racial movement in Asia. 
North and south, east and west, the struggling tribes were 
seeking outlets for their increase, or refuges from their 
oppressors. Many wars, many migrations, and much 
contention for the best localities caused a disorder, 
which make it difficult for us now to trace even the 
main movements. Strivings for a place in the Upper 
Yenisei region were occupying the attention of the tribes 
of Far Eastern Asia, who were either tempted by the 
favourable climatic conditions of this country or who 
were being unwillingly pushed forward by other waves 
of emigration. The Upper Yenisei formed an important 
centre in those early days, as indeed it does now. For 
on soil and climate depend the rise of civilization, and 
no race can rise to any state of culture under unsuitable 
conditions. The condition of the Yenisei Valley allowed 
the rise of the old Tuba races, and their comparatively 
high state of culture. Later on these same favourable 


conditions tempted the rude nomads of less hospitable 
Mongolia to fall on the Yeniseians and to seize their 
land. Finally in the present day the Russians have 
themselves settled in this land of promise. 

About the third century B.C. there emerged into 
prominence a people who were destined to leave their 
mark on the whole civilized world. Somewhere from 
the far south of Mongolia, perhaps from the borders of 
China — from the present-day provinces of Shensi and 
Kansu — came a wandering people, the Uigurs. The 
origin of the Uigurs is problematic, but as far back as 
this it can be traced with fair certainty. These tribes 
wandered northwards, and eventually settled in Mon- 
golia. Here they increased and flourished, and eventu- 
ally spread over the Yenisei regions as far north as 
the Chulim River, until, in the eighth century A.D., 
their kingdom reached over the whole of Northern 
Mongolia, from Lake Kossogol to the Black Irtish. 

The greatest power of the Uigurs (according to Pro- 
fessor Adrianoff of Minnusinsk) "extended from the 
fourth to the eighth century, when they exercised con- 
siderable political ascendency in these districts. The 
Chinese annals described them as being a light-haired 
and blue-eyed people. They were probably, at this 
period, of a very mixed race, showing great variation 
in type, especially as regards the protraction of the eye- 
lid/ ' In the ancient Uigurs we have the origin of the 
Turkish race, who, later on, overflowed all Central Asia 
and made an Empire on the shore of the Bosphorus. 
The history of the Uigurs and the migrations of the 
Turki tribes are outside our story ; it is only the influence 
these races had upon the people of the Yenisei region 
that affects us. 


When the Uigurs conquered the whole of the Upper 
Yenisei basin, and the present-day Minnusinsk region, 
they mixed with the indigenous Yeniseians, and it is to 
these people of mingled origin that the title of "Ugro- 
Samoyede " has been given. As these stronger tribes 
came into the land, the weaker Yeniseians were pushed 
back or absorbed. Some fled into the depths of the 
forests, and there found seclusion from the invaders, 
whilst others followed the line of least resistance, to the 
north. It is to this period that we must look for the 
original estrangement from the Yeniseians of the present- 
day inhabitants of the Upper Yenisei basin — the Urian- 
khai. Into this region one branch of the Yeniseians 
retreated, where, to this day, they remain under the 
name of Tubas or Uriankhai, protected from destruction 
by the impenetrable nature of the country. 

We can picture those dwellers in the pleasant vale 
of Minnusinsk, gradually being ousted by more intelligent 
races, retreating down the banks of the Yenisei River, 
journeying northwards into a great lone land. There, no 
doubt, they found game and fish in plenty and safety 
from invasion, but the conditions of life were so strenu- 
ous that they slowly but surely sank into a condition 
of decay, lost their knowledge of mining and agricul- 
ture, until, at the present day, we find that they have 
reverted to the state of the Stone Age. This is the origin 
of the Samoyedes — the uncouth nomads of the farthest 
north, who are doomed to wander, for their appointed 
time, in the lands of bleak, monotonous tundra within 
the Arctic Circle. 

Now the Uigurs were of a higher stamp than the 
former inhabitants of the Yenisei steppes, and during 
the occupation of North-west Mongolia and the Upper 


Yenisei they left traces which have come down to us, 
and which enable us to prove this fact. It is supposed 
that they also erected tumuli, for two distinct types are 
to be found, namely, those that are surrounded by upright 
stone slabs, and those that are not. Inside the former 
are to be found iron and copper objects, but rarely gold 
and silver objects, as in the case of the older Yeniseians. 
To the Uigurs are ascribed all the old Turkish inscrip- 
tions, which are to be found all through Mongolia, and 
which are easily distinguishable from the undecipher- 
able writings of the older inhabitants. 

With the Uigur period of influence we find another 
slowly growing power, also of Turki origin, which 
eventually asserted itself and finally, in the seventh 
century, overthrew the Uigur Empire. This was the 
Kirghiz or Hakas tribe, a branch of the original Uigurs, 
who rose to power in the Kemchik region of the 
Upper Yenisei basin, and later on held the Siberian slopes 
of the Altai and Syansk until the coming of the Russians. 
The Uigur or Turkish influence in the Upper Yenisei 
regions lasted until it was supplanted by the Mongols. 
With the growth of the Mongolian hordes into a recog- 
nized power the Turki tribes gave way, civilization 
disappeared from the regions of the Upper Yenisei, and 
a veil is drawn over the politics of the Siberian-Mongol 
frontier. The Mongol destroyers swept the open lands 
to the south, but did not overflow far into Siberia, which 
always remained outside the sphere of their influence. 

We have record of Jenghis Khan sending an expedi- 
tion against a turbulent tribe in the Upper Yenisei 
basin, when, doubtless, the Turki races residing there 
were driven farther northwards, where they took refuge 
in the Minnusinsk and Chulim steppes, and along the 


northern side of the Altai, until the coming of the Rus- 
sians. Now the two dominant races — the Chinese and 
the Russians — face each other on the waters of the 
Upper Yenisei, that region which has been so long the 
scene of many changes between conflicting tribes and 
migrating hordes. The Turki tribes (Kirghiz, or Hakas) 
migrated from the country in the face of the Russian 
advance, and left a comparatively open field for Siberian 
expansion into the vale of Minnusinsk. 

It was at the beginning of the seventeenth century, 
that the Russians first dealt with these regions, and since 
that date the growth of their influence has been sure and 
steady. The Russians arrived on the banks of the 
Yenisei in 1629, and in 1775 were collecting taxes from 
the weak tribes whom they found inhabiting the upper 
tributaries of that river. Adrianoff mentions that a 
tribe called Kamash, living on the Man River — right 
affluent of the Yenisei, some twenty miles above Kras- 
noyarsk, seem to be a remnant of the once strong 
Samoyedes, and are probably nearly related by language 
to the Uriankhai of the Upper Yenisei basin. "This 
tribe/' he says, " like all tribes in the territory of the 
modern Minnusinsk district, until the arrival of the 
Russians, were the subjects of China, and at no very 
distant date were probably living farther south." 
A few Tartars also lived here, but, by reason of their 
rapid decrease in population and by emigration, the 
country is now deserted. Such, in brief, is the varied 
history of these lands, which have been favourable to 
human progress from the earliest ages. The battle has 
been between the weaker indigenous races and the 
stronger alien tribes. The Uigur ousted the Yeniseian, 
the Hakas drove out the Uigur; now the Russian has 

" With folded arms grasping a vessel. 




established himself, and will no doubt absorb the re- 
maining tribes. 

With reference to the monuments and inscriptions 
which remain as a field for research into the ancient beliefs 
and customs of the various inhabitants of the Upper 
Yenisei region, the moment has now come to discuss them 
more fully. At various times during our journey we came 
across many monuments of antiquity. To understand 
more fully the present conditions of the remnant of the 
ancient Yeniseians — the Uriankhai — we must endeavour 
to understand the ancient beliefs and customs which 
caused those primitive inhabitants to set up these monu- 
ments. We shall thus be able to trace the close affinity 
existing between the inhabitants of the far Yenisei and 
the people of other primitive civilizations. 

As to the origin of the rock-pictures, the monoliths 
and stone figures, we must retrace our steps and en- 
deavour to discover the relations of the early Yeniseians, 
in regard to religious ideas and mythological beliefs. 
The association between art and religion has been so 
closely bound up, even from the earliest times, as to 
make it almost certain that the one is the outcome 
of the other. It is thought that the origin of all art — 
all representation, is based upon the old anthropo- 
morphic idea of primitive man wanting to give a definite 
life to the things or persons of his imagination. 

Primitive people were not satisfied with the spiritual 
alone, but depended upon a strong sense of anthropo- 
morphism. " They had always ambition to give a 
definite existence and personality to their vague ideas, 
which their minds could hardly grasp without some 
external aid." This may be the origin of those first 
attempts of man to express himself, namely, the picture- 


writing and designs, which are to be found all over the 
world. They are generally the expression of vague 
ideas. Early man drew those objects which closely 
affected his existence; he depicted the domesticated 
animals, and the wild game on which he depended lor 
food. Pastoral and hunting-scenes are common amongst 
the rock-drawings of the Yenisei. The Bactrian camel, 
the reindeer, the goats and cattle, the bear, ibex, and 
wapiti were all well known to him, as proved by 
the rock-pictures. One notable scene of herdsmen 
n rounding-up camels and reindeer was depicted. Of 
interest, also, are the pictures of men mounted on rein- 
deer ; for although this is still the custom of the forest- 
dwelling Uriankhai, yet these pictures exist in a district 
where no reindeer are now found. The artists of the 
Upper Yenisei were occasionally independent-minded 
enough to put in what they did not see, but what they 
knew was there ; for this reason we have the strange 
appearance of an ox, in profile, with a portion of his 
skeleton and internal organs drawn in their right posi- 
tions — like some anatomical chart. 

This same idea is clearly traced by Professor Ernest 
A. Gardner in his Religion and Art in Ancient Greece. I 
cannot do better than quote him : " The association of 
acts of worship with certain specially sacred objects or 
places lies at the basis of most religious art, although art 
has but little or nothing to do with such objects in a primi- 
tive stage of religious development. Stocks and stones, 
the latter often reputed to have fallen from heaven, or 
trees, were to be found at all the centres of religious cult. 
Such sacred stocks or stones were not regarded merely 
as symbols of certain deities, but were looked upon as 
having occult or magic qualities inherent in them, and 


as being in themselves potent for good or evil. The 
ceremonies used in their cult partook of the nature of 
magic rather than of religion as far as these consisted of 
anointing them with oil or with drink-offerings.' ' 

Unwrought stones all the world over, and from the 
earliest ages, have been deemed sacred, sacrificed to, 
and even anointed. To this day we find the simple 
natives of this region holding in veneration their crude 
monoliths and the more finished monuments of stone. 
The stones are subject to offerings ; they paint them 
with bright colours and wrap them in draperies, thus 
implying that the same things please the deity as please 
his worshippers. 

The same idea held good with the temples — the 
dwelling-places of the gods. The more attractive these 
temples were made the more surely the god would 
remain, otherwise the god was apt to change his abode. 
This idea was forcibly impressed upon us when watching 
the erection of a booth for the reception of a god, on a 
hill-top in the Upper Yenisei basin, and the careful 
attention paid by the Uriankhai to the attractiveness 
of the dwelling, and the care given to providing offerings 
of food and drink. 

Although the Uriankhai and the Mongols will tell 
you nothing about these stone figures, for they are 
loth to talk about them, they hint that they were 
made by a strange race, about whom they have no 
knowledge. Nevertheless, they treat them as sacred 
and in most cases venerate them by hanging them with 
bits of cloth and ribbon, and even old clothes. We have 
seen these monuments presenting a most ridiculous 
appearance as they stood alone on the wide, open steppe, 
dressed up in old clothes like some scarecrow on an 


English plough. The Uriankhai sometimes undress and 
bow before these idols, beating their foreheads with the 
palms of their hands. All are not considered equally 
holy, only certain ones appear to be worthy of a sacri- 
fice, namely, those that are recognized as being able 
to bring good or evil to the natives. 

In regions where the monoliths are found in the neigh- 
bourhood of cultivated lands the productiveness of the 
soil is put down to them ; and in this respect it is interest- 
ing to note that the monuments are especially numerous 
in the fertile lands, which were occupied long ago by the 
old races. The Mongol and Kirghiz races are more in- 
different to these antiquities; it is the Uriankhai only 
who hold them in real superstition. 

As a general rule, we find these stones in all places 
where there are other definite traces of an ancient 
civilization. In Siberia they are to be observed on the 
steppe and in the open valleys away from the forested 
areas, where there are traces of old cultivation. The 
figures could not have been erected by a people who 
depended upon agriculture, for we find them also on the 
open Mongolian plateau, where no race lived any other 
life but a nomadic one. They are to be seen as upright 
stones, rough-hewn or polished, plain or sculptured; in 
fact, in all stages from a crudely scratched to a finished 
representation of a human face, from a terminal bust to 
a complete, if somewhat crude, figure. We found stones 
with nothing but the simplest lines to denote the eyes, 
nose, and mouth, and others, we noticed, had the addition 
of the cheeks being just rounded off. Later the primitive 
sculptors managed to shape a complete bust, and even, 
in some cases, full-length figures. 

Here we have a continuous picture of the progress of 


their ideas of art, from the earliest " hertn" to the more 
or less complete figure " in the round. " The monoliths 
which surround the old tumuli represent the most 
primitive ideas of a monument ; they correspond to 
the " herms " of Greek belief, and are examples of 
man's first attempt to impersonate natural objects with 
the character of the deity supposed to inhabit them. 
Originally they were used as boundary-stones, or as 
monuments to mark a grave. The herm merely marked 
the sanctity of a spot. Jacob of old was only doing 
what the Yeniseians did, when he set up a stone and 
anointed it with oil, finding himself to be on sacred 

By degrees, as men realized the existence of deities 
apart from sacred objects, the stones became mere 
symbols — a great advance in religious ideas. The stones 
were even transformed into human shape, so that not only 
might the stones see and hear, but also take the image 
and character of the deity whom they were supposed to 
represent. As in the case of other primitive races, who 
painted eyes on the prows of their ships to enable them 
to find the way, so the Yeniseians also carved the head, 
eyes, and ears out of the sacred stone, the idea being that 
such carved eyes and ears actually served to transmit 
impressions to the god. 

In these monoliths with a rudely scratched face, and 
at a later period with a more or less well-defined head, 
we have the earliest idea of sculpture. These early 
monuments resemble nothing more than a column, square 
in form, having practically four distinct sides, with a 
roughly modelled head. Later the herm became of a 
peculiar shape; they " tapered downwards " — a copy of 
the human form, and, still later, this column became more 


rounded, the head had more care bestowed upon it, 
the limbs began to take shape, and, as in the case of the 
earliest Greek sculpture, the arms appeared closely held 
to the side. 

Although the terminal figure grew to be a free statue, 
or " stele," yet the sculptors never made any further 
progress. The arms never became detached from the 
body, and a leg never advanced with bent knee, to give 
the indication of the knowledge of balance. We can 
trace the slow progress of the sculptures as they grew to 
perfection, or, rather, to their standard of perfection, 
for they never went further, and they never idealized. 
Their original idea was probably to give a definite exist- 
ence to some one they wished to remember, an attempt 
to place the image of a dead man on an idol. 

It is these effigies which are such a remarkable 
feature of a certain area of Central Asia. In the 
now silent and uninhabited steppe, the traveller may 
suddenly come across these images standing solitary, 
waist-deep in the dry, dusty soil. Silent witnesses 
they must have been of the various waves of migra- 
tion and military expeditions that have passed and 
repassed across these great lone lands, and in them 
we may look for a likeness to their creators ; in fact, 
they themselves are the only indication to us of what 
their makers were like. Generally of natural size, 
roughly hewn out of granite or sandstone blocks into 
the bold, free likeness of some departed warrior, they 
present to the mind an analogy of ideas between them 
and the effigy of some Crusader in an English Cathedral, 
or the painted likeness on the outer case of an Egyptian 
mummy. All the way from the banks of the Yenisei to 
Southern Russia we find, at intervals, these curious 




monuments, which appear to represent an ancient and 
primitive custom. We, on our journey, did not actually 
see a great number of these stone figures, but by a study 
of the characteristics and distribution of all that have 
been described by other travellers, I find that there is a 
certain amount of valuable information regarding them 
which is worthy of record. 

We conclude that the effigies were sepulchral, and were 
set up as monuments to the departed. Friar Rubruck, 
the earliest recorder of these stone effigies, stated this as 
a fact. When describing the customs of the Comans, 
the ancient nomadic Turki inhabitants of Southern 
Russia (before the arrival of the Mongols), he says they 
" raise a tumulus over the dead, and set up a statue to 
him, its face to the east, and holding a cup in its hand 
at the height of the navel/ ' On another occasion the 
same traveller found many idols in a temple in Mongolia, 
and, imagining them to be representatives of deities, 
questioned the priests concerning them. The Mongols, 
however, surprised him by saying, — "we do not make 
images to God, but, when some rich person among us 
dies, his son, or wife, or some one dear to him, has made 
an image of the deceased and puts it here, and we revere 
it in memory of him." 

These ancient customs, all of which seem to point to 
a form of ancestor-worship, can be traced, at the present 
day, in certain crude idols which are to be found in the 
homes of some of the Shammanistic Siberian tribes. 
The Ostiaks, for instance, practise the custom of shaping 
a rude wooden image of a man who has died ; to this 
effigy they present offerings, and the widow embraces 
and caresses it. At the end of three years these idols 
are generally buried, but sometimes they are set up 


permanently and treated as saints. Other tribes keep 
little effigies in representation of each member of the 
family, and the number is added to or diminished, as the 
case may be, by a newly born member or a death. 

No doubt, in the case of the stone figures, only the 
great men had this honour bestowed upon them, and 
when we find a burial-mound with one of these images 
standing — waist deep in the soil — beside it, we may con- 
sider its features as a probable likeness of the hero, whose 
remains lie below the giant mound of earth. We cer- 
tainly noticed some very remarkable effigies with most 
striking facial features. It was obviously intended that 
there should be a facial resemblance to the man whose 
memory the effigy was to immortalize. We often saw 
the strong features of the warrior — a type we amused 
ourselves by likening to a Colonel of the British Army, 
by reason of his well-groomed moustache and general 
military appearance. Adrianoff describes one particu- 
larly sacred effigy, which the Uriankhai very naturally 
named the Jenghis Khan. This image he describes as 
being very well carved, and gave the impression of a 
strong man of severe expression, with a round face and 
high cheek-bones, with a drooping moustache and a 
small " Imperial." He had a short plaited pig-tail, and 
his head was covered with a skull-cap. 

With reference to the remark of Rubruck's about the 
statues holding a cup, I can supplement his careful 
observations by recording that almost invariably, in all 
cases which have come before me, or which have been 
recorded by others, these figures are represented with 
arms folded across the chest, holding vessels in their 
hands. Those writers who have remarked on this fact 
of the vessels make no further comment. I can find 


no theory advanced as to their use, or any reason for their 
presence. I may be seeking a somewhat trifling origin 
for a very far-reaching custom, but it seems obvious that 
these vessels are the snuff-bottles which are the life- 
companions of the Mongols. Snuff-taking is the most 
universal custom of the Mongols ; it has a well-established 
social meaning, and the strictest etiquette envelopes its 
use. The wealth and standing of a Mongol may be judged 
by the kind of snuff -bottle he uses; it is the criterion 
of his social rank. Some Mongols spend (for them) 
fabulous sums on snuff -bottles of carved jade and trans- 
parent stone ; they would sooner part with their wives or 
a favourite horse than their snuff -bottles. As a sign of 
their position, and also no doubt in order to prevent their 
being without snuff on the long journey to the next world, 
the monuments were erected with the favourite bottles 
tightly clasped in their hands. 

No matter what race we make responsible for this 
peculiar custom of erecting these stone monuments, it is 
certain that the creators themselves of these stone figures, 
or their influence, spread all the way westwards from here 
to Southern Russia. There is one essential difference 
between the Mongolian and Russian figures, which is so 
constant and so remarkable that it is worthy of record. 
According to M. Vladimir Riedel, the stone figures, or 
" effigies," of Southern Russia are similar to those of 
Mongolia (they even hold snuff-bottles); they differ 
fundamentally, however, in that they are nearly always 
of female form. 1 This is a very noteworthy fact, as in 
Mongolia the vast majority of figures are of male form, 
although figures in female form are also to be found. 

1 The Russian peasants have only one name for the stone figures — 
" babi,"i.«. women. 


It has been suggested that those of Southern Russia 
represented goddesses ; but, as a matter of fact, in the old 
Slavic faith there were no goddesses. Moreover, during 
recent researches in Asia Minor, a representation of a 
goddess has been found there, which belongs to so early 
a date that it was supposed to be the original from which 
arose the idea of the Virgin of the Christian faith. At 
that period the idea of female-worship, as such, was not 
known anywhere north of the Alps. 

A more plausible theory is that put forward by M. 
Riedel, who thinks that the stone figures date from the 
introduction of Christianity into Russia. In those days 
many heathen customs survived, the most typical and 
revolting of which was that of burying the wife in the 
same grave as the husband. There are instances of the 
bones of men, women, and horses being found in the same 
grave. These latter were, no doubt, considered neces- 
sary for use in a future state. On the introduction of 
Christianity this barbaric custom would naturally be 
the first that the missionaries would endeavour to sup- 
press. It is, therefore, thought probable that these stone 
figures were the earliest substitutes for the human being, 
an important change in their customs brought in by the 
Christian priests in order to do away with female sacri- 
fice. The women were, on the death of their husbands, 
persuaded to erect a stone figure representing themselves, 
and these they placed over the graves. As a proof of 
their dating from a period after the introduction of 
Christianity it is significant to note that there have been 
found figures with a cross cut on the breast. 

Apart from the stone figures, there are other indica- 
tions, of even greater antiquity, of the customs of the 
ancient Yeniseians, namely, the tumuli. So amazing 


is the quantity of these grave-mounds in the Northern 
Minnusinsk region that a portion of the district has 
earned the name of the Azkiezkaia Steppe, or " The Plain 
of the Dead." These monuments are to be found dis- 
tributed over a wide area from South Siberia along the 
Urals as far as the Volga. Their number in the Russian 
Altai, in Mongolia, and in the Uriankhai country is 
astounding. In the tumuli are hidden the secrets of 
ancient history, and of the progress of early man. 
These secrets would reveal to us the history of a 
nation, which reached a higher degree of culture than 
the people now occupying this land, a nation which 
has now disappeared, leaving as a record these tombs 
and figures in which are wrapt up the riddle of their 

The tumuli, or " Kurgans," i.e. " strangers' graves," 
or graves of the Chudes," or " aliens," 1 form a 
study in themselves, and have occupied the attention 
of several learned Russian archaeologists during the last 
few years. From what I can gather, the tumuli were 
not always of a sepulchral nature, i.e. mounds built over 
the graves, but held a deeper meaning, probably a 
mythological one, and played a definite part in the affairs 
of the tribes. Gigantic mounds, which might well be 
supposed to be monuments to great chieftains, have 
been excavated and found to contain nothing. These 
mounds were probably tribal meeting-places, where 
assemblies of the tribesmen were called together. 

The shape of the mounds, their dimensions, their 
relative positions and details of construction, vary a 
great deal, but, according to Adrianoff, we may place 

1 The name Ostiak — a tribe of Southern Siberia — between whom 
and the Uriankhai there are some affinities, also means " stranger." 



them in two groups, which are easily differentiated. 
Those of the Kemchik Valley, the Upper Yenisei, and the 
Russian Altai, he groups together and entirely separates 
those of the Abakan and Minnusinsk steppes. The first 
type have a cobbled surface, and are always surrounded 
by a circle of stones; the second type are earthen 
mounds surrounded by large stone-slabs, in the form 
of a square. 

All the mounds we saw in the Chulim and Minnusinsk 
steppes were remarkable for the presence of monoliths, 
or upright stone-slabs, set up round the tumuli ; this is, 
in fact, the characteristic feature of the mounds of this 
particular district, for although in the course of our 
subsequent journey we came across graves of a variety 
of types, and occasional isolated monoliths, we never 
again saw graves to resemble these. The slabs were 
placed in every conceivable combination of numbers, 
yet they were always alike in one respect, namely, in 
the orientation of the face of the stones. All slabs, 
without exception, faced north and south, with their 
narrow edges east and west. Their position was so 
exact in this respect, that we could always observe the 
points of the compass so long as we were in sight of a 

As regards number and size, the stones varied con- 
siderably. Some measured above the ground 10 ft. in 
height by 3 ft. in breadth and 8 in. in thickness ; some, 
indeed, reached to 13 ft. in height. Although the total 
number of stones surrounding a particular grave was 
generally even, the stones were placed without any 
apparent method ; we counted six on the east side, and 
six on the west, three on the north side and three on 
the south, — a total of eighteen. Other examples gave 





twelve, and twenty, made up in like manner. It has 
been suggested by some writers that these rough stone 
slabs were supposed to represent the number of enemies 
killed in battle by the dead heroes. This may be a solu- 
tion of the varying number of the slabs. The greatest 
number I can find record of are those which are placed 
by the tomb of Tomyukuk, a Turkish hero of the seventh 
century, near Urga. In this case there is a single straight 
line, not a circle, of three hundred monoliths ! * From 
Chinese sources, also, we learn that it was " customary 
amongst the ancient Turks to place around a tomb as 
many upright stones as the deceased had killed persons 
in his life-time. 8 

The mounds were not placed on any particular site ; 
sometimes they were on hill-tops singly, and at others 
in great profusion on the steppe. The very largest were 
generally placed singly or in couples, but the cemeteries 
of hundreds of tumuli were composed of mounds of a 
relatively small size. The actual location of the tumuli 
may perhaps largely have depended upon the necessity 
of their being situated in the vicinity of a stone-quarry. 
In the Kemchik Valley, for instance, they are more 
numerous and more thickly set on the hills near the stone- 
quarries than they are in the valleys. In the northern 
part of the Minnusinsk steppe, where we came across 
the first great cemetery of tumuli, a stone-quarry was 
conspicuous in the background, which had no doubt 
supplied those ancient people with all the material they 
needed ; yet, on the other hand, they did achieve 
much in the way of transporting huge blocks of stone, 

1 See Mr. C. W. Campbell's report on A Journey in Mongolia, 1904. 

2 See Chou Shu (The Annals of the Chou Dynasty) as quoted by Rockhill 
in his translation of Rubruck, p. 82. Haklyut Society edition. 


for we have seen giant monoliths far away from any 

In Mongolia the choice of a site for burial depended 
largely on the superstitious ideas attached to certain 
localities. A feature of Mongolian scenery is the presence 
of peculiar uplifts of windworn granite, little isolated 
rock-ranges which stand up here and there as landmarks 
on the plateau. These throughout all time have been a 
source of wonder to the natives, and were considered 
sacred ; in consequence, we find the burial-grounds con- 
centrated there. 

In the depths of the grave-mounds have been dis- 
covered a host of interesting relics, such as skulls, which 
show us the ethnographical type of man who lies buried 
there ; death-masks of beaten gold, which indicate to us 
their exact facial features — features, by the way, which 
the authorities describe as being remarkably European ; 
and besides this a harvest of stone, bone, bronze, gold, 
silver, and iron ornaments, trinkets, mining-tools and 
implements. The bones which have been taken out of 
the mounds afford much material for consideration and 
discussion. Care, however, must be taken in theorizing 
with the information at our disposal. Many graves 
apparently contain only one body, and the deductions 
are obvious ; but succeeding inhabitants were inclined 
to bury their dead in the same mounds as constructed 
by their forerunners, and different generations are found 
in layers, under the same tumuli. These different 
layers may represent the different types of inhabitants 
which have held the Yenisei plain at various periods, 
and research work in connexion with the skulls which 
have been found, may result in a clearer understanding 
of who these ancient people were. 


The fact that mounds are found in great numbers in 
certain localities, points to the possibility of their position 
having been the scene of some great conflict between 
warlike tribes, or between the indigenous races and the 
foreign invaders. Adrianoff remarks that, in this latter 
case, it might be of the greatest interest to excavate, with 
the view of unearthing two types of skulls and thereby 
gaining material for comparison, from which we might 
deduce the respective ethnographical characteristics of 
the natives and of the invaders. Mention has been made, 
by that same keen scientist, of one giant mound of from 
20 to 30 ft. in height, which was found to contain between 
ten and fifteen bodies of men and horses, with other 

The nature of the contents of the tumuli varies as 
much as their construction. On sinking a shaft down a 
mound in the Minnusinsk region, the excavators first 
came upon a rotten beam of timber ; four or five yards 
deeper they found many bones in disorder, the skulls of 
five men and the bones of eleven, also the bones of sheep 
and six earthenware vases. Further, a horizontal shaft 
was found reaching to a vault, which was empty. 

Amongst the wonderful collection of antiquities found 
in the mounds, or discovered by chance in the ground 
wherever the soil has been turned by the present-day 
colonists, there are a few items well worthy of con- 
sideration. For instance, from the tumuli have been 
taken certain metallic discs which were evidently used 
as looking-glasses. These mirrors chance to be identic- 
ally the same as those still in use amongst the Buriats 
of Southern Siberia, and although it is claimed that the 
burying-places belong to a race wholly distinct from the 
present-day inhabitants of this part of Siberia, yet this 


fact would oblige us to hold the opinion that there must 
be some far-distant connexion. 1 

From contemporary history we learn that in the days 
of Herodotus (fifth century B.C.) these Yeniseians were 
in the Bronze Age, whilst four centuries later Strabo re- 
marks that they used gold and bronze, a little iron, but 
no silver. The relative ages of culture as compared with 
those in Europe are of interest. The Tartars were in 
the Iron Age when visited by medieval travellers, yet 
the Tunguses of Siberia to this day use stone arrow- 
heads. The influence of the Yeniseians may have been 
very far-reaching. According to tradition, the working 
of gold, silver, copper, and bronze was introduced into 
North America by foreigners ; and the evidence that 
North America has received its population from Asia 
is fairly well established, on the strength of the physical, 
social, and linguistic characteristics of the aborigines, 
which are so closely allied to those of the Mongolian 
tribes in Siberia. May not the introducers of the art of 
metal-working have been these same skilled mineralogists 
from the banks of the Yenisei ? 

As to the extent of the practice of agriculture in these 
regions we have only, as data, the presence of old irri- 
gation canals. It is mere conjecture as to which period 
these works can be ascribed, but, as the climate of the 
Minnusinsk basin was so favourable to human progress, 
we may look to the very earliest development of hus- 
bandry as taking place here. In some localities, at the 
present day, the modern settler has actually found it 

1 Some of the skulls found in the mounds are of the " dolicho-ce- 
phalic " type, which shows that the earliest builders of the mounds were 
probably men of the Stone Age, whilst the gradual influx of a foreign 
element is proved by the fact that the majority of the skulls belong to the 
I! brachy-cephalic," or Mongolic type. 


convenient to open up the old disused canals, and has 
proved that their engineering was in no way at fault. 
Obviously this country must have had attractions and 
conditions most suitable to the people of those days, 
otherwise why was this region so favourable to the pro- 
duction, growth, and advance of prehistoric man ? Why, 
later on, did it arouse the greed of invaders from the 
south ? 

To carry the question further, why is this district, 
at the present day, the home of the most progressive 
Siberians, and why is the Upper Yenisei region calling 
forth the energies of the prospecter and the miner, and 
why are the regions beyond it the desire of the trader, 
when at length a commercial treaty allows him a free 
hand ? It seems as if the land is coming back to its old 
prosperity. The necessities of more advanced civilization 
in the west, find need of the hidden and untouched riches 
of the east. Thus Minnusinsk holds out fair prospects 
to the farmer, the gold of the Upper Yenisei attracts the 
prospecter, and the scope for trade in wool, hides, and fur 
tempts the Russian trader into Far Mongolia. May not 
all this alter the colour of the map ? may it not bring 
Russia into antagonism with China, or even into alliance 
with the independent Mongol chieftains ? This last 
invasion is from the north and the west, but it corresponds 
in many ways to the old invasion from the south, when 
the Uigurs, in the earliest days, descended into these fair 
regions from the bleak plateaux of Mongolia. 

Before leaving this region of ancient associations 
mention should be made of, and full credit given to, those 
Russian scientists who have been carrying on the work 
of excavation in their eager desire to search out the 
mysteries of these antiquities. As long ago as 1881, the 


first "Kurgans M were opened up in the neighbourhood 
of Minnusinsk, but systematic excavation did not take 
place until between 1892-1903. The result of this work 
has been published from time to time by the Imperial 
Russian Geographical Society, and by the Imperial 
Archaeological Committee. 

To Dr. N. Martianoff and latterly to Professor 
Adrianoff we are chiefly indebted for our knowledge 
of ancient Siberia ; the wonderful results of their labour 
being shown by the collection exhibited in the Museums 
of Minnusinsk, Tomsk, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. In 
the Minnusinsk Museum can be seen an unrivalled array 
of stone, copper, bronze, and iron implements, prehis- 
toric pottery, and a series of five hundred skulls from 
the Kurgans. Beside these, many stone monuments and 
inscribed pillars find here a resting-place, and have thus 
been preserved from destruction. The metallurgical finds 
are kept in the Historical Museum in Moscow, whilst 
the gold and silver ornaments are treasured in the 
" Eronitash " in St. Petersburg. 

We had the pleasure of meeting Professor Adrianoff 
whilst in Minnusinsk, where we found him engrossed in 
his work of deciphering the old runic writings from the 
region of the Upper Yenisei. The results of his labours 
are at the present moment in the hands of the Imperial 
Archaeological Committee, in preparation for publication, 
and we eagerly await the appearance of this work, for 
it should settle many questions of importance, and give 
us a knowledge of many things which are at present 
without explanation. 



The country that lies at the foot of the Mongolian 
plateau, in which we outfitted for our journey, and where 
our first difficulties began, constitutes " the edge of 
cultivation/ ' beyond which is a gloomy region of primeval 
forest and dismal fen. This whole region between the 
Altai Mountains and Lake Baikal, along the Russo- 
Chinese frontier, is a hill-country of a densely forested 
nature, holding a scanty population and possessing few 
ways of communication. Along the foot-hills of this 
mountain-region extend the settlements of Siberian colo- 
nists — settlements which represent the advance-guard 
of that great immigration which Asiatic Russia has 
been absorbing from Europe during the last fifty years. 
Here end the rich, open plains, and with them the advance 
of civilization, for beyond lies the unknown depth of 
forest backed by the Syansk border-range. 

This is a happy, fruitful country of great capabilities 
and rich resources. The land is of the best, the climate is 
mellowed by the protecting ranges, and the great water- 
ways give easy and quick transport. The Siberians, as 
good colonists as one could meet anywhere in the world, 
but lacking that " push " and originality which is indis- 
pensable to bring their country into the first rank, have 
slowly but surely advanced southwards towards the Mon- 



gol frontier. The border-ranges, which form the frontier, 
are in themselves no barrier to the further advance of the 
Siberians ; it is the dense forests which clothe them that 
constitute the real hindrance to further colonization. 
At the edge of the forest-belt the Russian settlements stop 
entirely ; into the forests it is only the most energetic of 
the traders, fur-hunters, and fishermen who venture 
to penetrate, with the idea of opening up a somewhat 
unsatisfactory trade with the indigenous tribes, and in 
the hope of benefiting by the great wealth that the 
" taiga " contains in the shape of minerals and furs. 
Beyond the forest-barrier, however, in the heart of the 
Yenisei basin, we found many small colonies where 
Siberian settlers had made isolated and secluded homes. 

The impenetrability of this zone of forest and moun- 
tains, the little knowledge that men seemed to have of it, 
as well as the actual season of the year, caused the first 
obstacles in our advance southwards, and called for much 
resource to overcome. These peculiar physical condi- 
tions have kept the sources of the Yenisei a terra in- 
cognita ; they have hindered the Russianization of a 
land which orographically belongs to Siberia, and they 
have helped to make it a refuge for the indigenous tribes. 

The basin of the Upper Yenisei is neither truly Rus- 
sian nor Chinese ; its physical features give the appearance 
of being in a stage of transition between those of Siberia 
and Inner Asia. From this narrative it will be noticed 
that, in the course of our journey, we met with forests 
of spruce, Scotch pine, and larch as well as areas of arid 
steppe ; that we encountered lush green meadows, damp 
forests, and a wealth of wild-flowers on one slope of a 
mountain-range, and the pale aridity of desiccation on 
the other side of the same range ; that we saw the birch- 


bark " tepee," or wigwam, and the felt-covered yurt 
in close proximity, and in quite a small area we found 
such a variety of domesticated animals as reindeer, 
camels, horses, yaks, and cattle. 

Kushabar, where we spent two weeks, outfitting for 
our plunge into the " wild," is a typical frontier village. 
Situated as it is, at the very foot of the most outlying 
spurs of the mountain, within half a mile of the edge of 
the forest-belt, and on the banks of the Amil River, it 
possesses all the characteristics of a prosperous colony. 
Here is land, fuel, and water-transport ; here is shelter 
from the cold in winter, and sufficient rain in summer ; 
the severe Siberian climate being mellowed on account 
of the proximity of the mountains. 

Arriving here in the beginning of May, we soon dis- 
covered that considerable difficulties and delays were 
ahead of us ; we had, however, during the following two 
weeks ample opportunities for enjoying this attractive 
and interesting season of the year in a region of con- 
trasting climate, where a sudden plunge took place from 
depth of winter into brilliant summer. Although no 
snow lay, at this date, on the edge of the forest near by 
the village, yet it was said to be quite deep farther in. 
As no grass had been able to grow, we could not move 
with our horses — being dependent upon the country for 
fodder. Moreover, all tributaries of the Amil — in- 
significant little streams at other seasons — were swollen 
to a prodigious size and consequently unfordable. All 
these things united to make communication between 
Siberia and the regions of the Upper Yenisei exceedingly 
difficult, and hindered our advance. There are only two 
periods when travel can be said to be comparatively 
easy, namely, in autumn, when the rivers are low, and 


in mid-winter, when they are frozen solid ; in both 
seasons use being made of the rivers, in autumn by 
canoe and in winter on the ice by sleigh. 

Winter is the only season when the hunters can pene- 
trate into the depths of the forest, namely, by following 
up the frozen water-ways, dragging with them light sleighs 
with provisions and traps, and using always the river as a 
base for further operations in the wilds. Winter is the 
time when the Siberian colonists have little to do, for the 
land is hard-frozen, and the stock only has to be fed. 
With the sudden summer, however, comes a rush of work 
and movement. The fishermen pole their canoes up- 
stream, and net the chosen waters in the upper reaches ; 
the gold-miners outfit with canoe and pack-horse, to 
prospect new country, or to do summer-work at a mine 
which has been shut down all winter ; the traders move 
southward with their merchandise, and barter their goods 
with the forest-dwellers for furs, hides, and wool. 

The Siberian spring is accompanied by somewhat 
unsettled weather. When the ice breaks on the Yenisei 
River the weather breaks also. Strong winds, sudden 
storms, and great changes in temperature occur. In 
Minnusinsk we even had a little snow, but in Kushabar, 
two weeks later, we read a maximum temperature of 
86°, and the heat was quite oppressive until thunder- 
storms cleared the air. The latter part of May was hot 
and sunny ; with magical rush spring swept past on 
its north-bound journey, leaving in a few days a carpet of 
fresh green grass and budding flowers on a ground which, 
a week before, had just escaped from the grasp of frost. 
In the forest flowers sprang up in profusion — marigolds, 
forget-me-nots, primroses, and anemones ; the birches 
showed the first film of green. On the wings of spring 


Near Kushabar. 



came a million summer birds, and at once prepared to 
nest, instinct making them aware of the shortness of 
the time at their disposal in these their summer haunts. 

On our arrival on May 16th there was no sign of green 
on the steppe or in the forest, but by the 26th the spring 
was so far advanced, and the grass was so abundant, that 
we were enabled to graze out our caravan-horses on the 
meadows. The birches and the poplars burst into full leaf 
during the same short period. Each day, as we rode out, 
we could notice the increased growth. Flowers appeared 
as if by magic, banks of forget-me-nots, yellow pansies, 
small irises, and anemones in the forest and great beds of 
orange ranunculus in the swamps. The grass in places 
where the ground was burnt by forest-fires sprang up in 
five days to as many inches. Price estimated the growth 
of plants during the eight days between May 19th and 
27th to have been on this scale : ranunculus, 1 ft. 6 in. ; 
forget-me-nots, 1 ft. ; buttercups, 6 in. ; grasses, 
1 ft. 3 in. and 1 ft. 10 in. 

In the forest we spent many days. Much " lumbering' ' 
had been going on along its edge, and, in consequence, 
the trees had been thinned out, this outer zone of forest 
being largely made up of magnificent Scotch pines. 
Price, who spent most of his time during our stay at 
Kushabar in studying forestry, noted the chief charac- 
teristics of the trees of this region. This part of the 
forest-belt is composed of pine, birch, and poplar, with a 
few spruce. The pine, Price observes, thrive best on the 
slopes facing south, south-east, or south-west, where 
there is plenty of light and sun ; in fact, these slopes were 
more or less covered with Scotch pine only, whereas on the 
other aspects poplar, aspen, birch, and a few spruce 
alone found sustenance. He noted that the distribution 


of species of trees seemed in no way dependent on the 
underlying soil. 

The pine-forests were in some parts closely grown 
and in others of an open character. The closer-grown 
trees attained a height of 120 to 140 ft., with a girth of 
7 to 9 ft. These trees had evidently sprung up very 
close together when quite young, and had, later on, been 
considerably thinned out. In the more open forest the 
mature trees gave maximum heights of 90 to 120 ft., with 
girth of 10 to 12 ft. The thinning of the pine-forests ap- 
peared to be brought about by the fact that the trees in 
middle age, when crowded, automatically thinned them- 
selves, the weaker becoming suffocated, and dying out. 
The deep soil enables the stronger trees to get their roots 
far down, and thus to draw water over a larger area 
during the time they are crowding the weaker out. 
The weaker trees thus either die, are blown down, or are 
burnt by grass-fires in the summer. 

With a view to ascertaining the problematic changes 
by climate in this region, Price's notes on the regenera- 
tion of the Scotch pines are significant. He observed 
that there was very little generation going on at the 
present date. The shade of the older trees, the grass, 
which seemed to have encroached on the forest and 
swamped the seedlings, the grass-fires in spring and 
summer, and the absence of moss in the ground-flora, 
seemed to reduce pine generation to a minimum. Only 
a few isolated seedlings could be seen here and there. 
The chief regeneration was that of poplar, and birch, 
which, shooting up under the pines, could easily push 
their heads through the long grass. " It seems to me," 
Price goes on to state, " that the pine-area in the forest 
had evidently been formed under conditions far more 


favourable to pine growth and regeneration than at the 
present time ; these conditions were, probably, absence 
of grass and presence of moss, accompanied, in former 
years, by greater rainfall and a colder climate.' ' 

After waiting impatiently for three weeks, we became 
anxious about our departure. Snow still lay in places 
in the forest, and, from all accounts, the ridges a few 
thousand feet higher were impracticable for the passage 
of a caravan, besides which, in the rapid rise of the 
Amil River we had sufficient proof of abundant snows 
in a melting condition. Hot, sunny weather continued, 
which melted the snows in the higher regions, and the 
river rose accordingly. Every evening we examined the 
flood ; by May 26th it had overflowed the country for 
a considerable distance on either bank. Towards the 
east, where the river was more or less hemmed in by 
hills, there were 6 to 800 yards of water ; towards the 
north, communication by road was cut off, and, taking 
everything into consideration, it seemed as if we might 
be delayed here indefinitely. 

But on May 27th the water was stationary, and on 
the following days it fell in the proportion of 18 in., 2 ft., 
and 1 ft. ; in fact, the water, owing chiefly to cold nights, 
fell in three days as much as it had risen in a week. On 
the flood came fishermen from the upper waters, using 
small rafts with great " sweeps " in front and behind ; 
some of them stopped at Kushabar, and gave us news of 
the forest, others drifted past on their way to the Yenisei, 
with their cargo of barrels of salted fish. 

These men reported much snow twenty or thirty 
miles in the forest ; and another wanderer, who arrived 
from the Russian gold-mines in the mountains, warned 
us of six feet of soft snow on the passes. These notes 


are of interest with regard to the opening up of ways 
of communication in this region. Great, and almost 
inconceivable differences exist in the rain and snow- 
fall, and the possibility of utilizing the waterways in 
different localities. The north side of the Syansk is 
very different in this respect to the south ; the forested 
routes of the Amil cannot be compared at all with 
those of the more open valleys of the Abakan. Sur- 
veyors of this region, searching for reasonable routes 
across the mountains, will have to consider carefully 
the different climatic conditions of each district. 

We became quite accustomed to the quiet village life, 
and found the Siberian colonists most hospitable and 
entertaining. They were a type to be found anywhere on 
the outskirts of a new country, — the best type, — those who 
push on ahead of the others, and who are capable of 
handling nature, and fighting her complexities in a plain, 
stubborn manner. The same characteristic is found in 
the Canadian backwoods, or on the high veldt in South 
Africa. Kushabar has been a village for about seventy 
years ; it consists of about two hundred log-houses, 
holding about twelve hundred inhabitants. The whole 
village seemed to us like one large family. Nothing 
was done without common consent and agreement. 
For instance, a deputation waited on us one day, and 
the spokesman informed us that it had been decided 
by the village council that, during our stay, we should 
pay a rouble per horse for the grazing-rights. The 
grazing-ground being shared by the whole village, the 
keep of horses was paid for in proportion to the number ; 
it was only fair and natural that we strangers, with our 
dozen animals, should not be given free use of these 
special rights. The spokesman explained to us that 


^^^ ~^tofe 


1 ^^^M^^^^^^MMimk-^ 

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9 W» lv : M* ~JI 




travellers passing through would, in an ordinary way, be 
welcome to the use of the pastures, but we apparently 
had settled in the village indefinitely. The money was, 
of course, paid willingly, while at the same time we 
pointed out that our ambition was to continue our journey, 
as we had no intention of settling down in Kushabar. 

By degrees we purchased more horses, until our 
caravan numbered twenty-four, twenty of which were 
intended for transport. The organization of this part 
of the journey was attended with the maximum amount 
of difficulty that could be experienced by any traveller. 
We were at the outset of an unusually long journey ; 
all our kit, clothes, instruments, and outfit had to be 
" packed " on horses unaccustomed to baggage, by men 
unaccustomed to managing baggage-animals, and it had 
to be transported over a zone of country full of natural 
difficulties. These horses cost, on an average, forty 
to sixty-five roubles each ; they were mostly in good 
condition, having grazed out on the steppe; but they 
were animals from the plains, rather large and heavy, 
and not exactly suitable for hill-work. We had to make 
the best of it, however, for we were, as a matter of fact, 
in the wrong locality for " fitting out " our expedition. 
We were on the north side of the ranges, and in conse- 
quence were hampered by the maximum amount of 
snow ; we were amongst settled Russian peasants, instead 
of, as would have been to our advantage, amongst 
nomadic Kalmuks, or Kirghiz, where we should have 
had the pick of great herds of horses, and the choice of 
skilled horsemen to manage a caravan. 

Saddles had to be bought and fitted, felt saddle-pads, 
halters, ropes, girths, etc., had to be procured before 
we were ready to trek. The village was very nearly self- 


supporting, and we could buy the greater number of 
things we needed, though others had to be sent for 
from the larger settlement of Kara-tuz, to the north. 
Home-spun material was found to be most useful and 
durable for making sacks and for covering the felts, etc. 
We bought our supply of flour, and filled up every 
available tin with cheap and good honey, and generally 
ransacked the village for anything that might be of use 
to us. 

The food question was a difficult one. The expedition 
consisted of three Englishmen, our Georgian interpreter, 
Gregoireff Makandaroff , and seven Siberians of Kushabar 
whom we employed for the management of the caravan. 
Our party of eleven men had to be fed for an indefinite 
period, as the region ahead of us supplied fish only with 
certainty, while flour was only to be procured if our route 
happened to lead us into some Siberian traders' settle- 
ment. We guaranteed for these Siberians a daily allow- 
ance of tea, and of three pounds of " sukari," or toasted 
bread — a not excessive allowance to sustain largely built 
men, undergoing considerable physical exercise ; but 
they appeared to be contented with it, as this is their usual 
fare when on journeys in the " taiga." We did not, how- 
ever, quite know our Siberians ; for there was plenty of 
trouble in store for us as regards the food allowance, and 
the demands they made for meat. Some days were spent 
in collecting a sufficient supply of sukari, which is 
the ordinary Russian bread chopped into small pieces, 
and baked quite hard. This is very light to carry, and, 
if preserved dry, keeps indefinitely. Four hundred 
pounds' weight was prepared for the journey ; with this 
we carried 150 lbs. weight of flour for ourselves, and 
a reserve of another 150 lbs. of the same. Our food- 


supply, together with our kit, made up sufficient loads 
for twenty horses. 

Finally, a long agreement with our men was drawn up 
in the presence of the village council and the parties 
concerned ; this, after considerable haggling, was duly 
signed by the village elder and the men, some of whom, 
by the way, could not write, and had their names written 
for them. 

On June 2nd we were ready to start. Never shall we 
forget our departure from that little Siberian village. The 
men w r ere incapacitated by an all-night's carouse, the 
horses were unmanageable, the heavy loads were both 
awkward and difficult to pack ! Besides all this, the 
fresh and untried horses, the new saddles and unstretched 
ropes, added to the difficulties of our work. The head- 
man was so intoxicated as to be quite fearless, and 
managed the wild Tartar horses most skilfully. Often 
we had to " rope up " a horse before the baggage could 
be put on, and when it was packed a mad fit of 
" bucking " as often as not necessitated a re-packing. 
It is a well-known fact that the first day of any journey 
with pack-animals is always the worst, but this particular 
one beat all our previous experiences. 

At last the caravan was set in motion, the twenty 
pack-horses filed down the long village street, past the 
gaudily painted church, and out into the meadows. In 
the open the horses at once became still more trouble- 
some, for a slip of a pack or the catch of a rope would 
stampede the Tartar broncos unused to such work, and 
we had the pleasure of seeing our wild horses careering 
over the hill-sides dragging their loads behind them. 
This stampede would be followed by a " round up," a 
repacking of the loads, and yet another start. It took 


us some seven hours to get out of sight of the village, 
but, having once gained the narrow forest-path, we 
made better progress. 

The foot-hills and the edge of the forest were spangled 
with many-coloured flowers ; sheets of blue and gold 
indicated forget-me-nots and ranunculus, the birches 
showed up against dark pines in vistas of softest green, 
and under them were spread lawns of grass. The day 
was brilliant, the air was full of summer sounds, and, as 
the route unveiled itself before us, and the caravan 
tinkled through the forest, we realized that only natural 
difficulties and struggles with the elements were before 
us. The last link with civilization was broken. There 
was nothing beyond us but the mountains, the forests, 
and the great breezy plateaux. Later in the day, when 
the first camp was pitched, the birch-logs were burning, 
and our horses were grazing in the wealth of grass around 
the camp, we felt once again that strange contentment 
alone known and appreciated by the inveterate wanderer. 

Eastwards and southwards, beyond Kushabar, the 
country changes in character. From the edge of the 
forest near the village, and from a slight elevation on the 
first foot-hills, the Syansk Range becomes clearly visible. 
Here, by a far-away glimpse of bare crags, lifting up 
above the endless stretches of dark forest, we obtain the 
first indication of the northern declivities of the Mongolian 
plateau. Although of no great altitude, the crags are 
impressive after the endless monotony of the Siberian 
plains. The sunny meadows beside the swirling Amil 
are a bright foreground to the vast stretches of pine 
forests seen in the middle distance, these allowing the 
eye to rest at length on white snow-fields and the jagged 
tops of the main ranges. The watershed of the range 


was about forty miles away, in a direct line ; but those 
forty miles meant, even in the best season, four days' 
journey ; under the present prospect of snow and of 
flooded rivers we did not anticipate reaching the summit 
under ten days of strenuous marching. 

The Syansk Mountains extend under that name for 
a distance of between three and four hundred miles, 
along the whole northern side of the Yenisei basin. 
The range, as a barrier, is complete except at the one 
point where a narrow defile, called the Kemchik Bom, 
lets out on to the Siberian plains the pent-up waters of 
the main sources of the Yenisei. Although of no great 
altitude, the range is a remarkable physical feature. 
The long, continuous, and regular watershed, as shown 
on the maps, does not exist; it is made up of an 
uneven line of disconnected uplifts, which render the 
country awkward to negotiate, and also make it 
difficult for the surveyor to grasp the exact character 
of the ranges. 

As before mentioned, the main ridge was about forty 
miles distant from Kushabar, the intervening space being 
filled up by the outlying spurs and offshoots of the 
mountains. These spurs occasionally attain an altitude 
equal to the main range. The Aradansk Range, for 
instance, rises to an altitude of 8,000 ft., and forms a 
double barrier to the traveller proceeding southwards 
from Minnusinsk, for he must cross this ridge before 
approaching the main watershed. On our route we 
made use of the valley of the Amil for the most part ; 
but even in doing so we had to pass over several cross- 
ridges and to climb the outlying spur called Chokerok ; 
then we dropped again into the Upper Amil Valley before 
finally starting to ascend the actual watershed of the 


Syansk. Thus it will be seen that the ways which ap- 
proach the Syansk from the north are rough and devious ; 
the traveller must not count on the actual distance, but 
rather on the nature of the ground, when trying to esti- 
mate his marches. Our track, at the start, lay along 
the north side of the Amil River, as far as a place called 
Petropavlovsk, where a fisherman had built a log-hut 
and had named the place after himself. Thence our 
route lay along the south bank of the river, over a more 
hilly country, until we gained the upper reaches of the 
Amil, where the river flows parallel to, and close under, 
the Syansk Range. Crossing the river in its upper 
reaches, a tributary took us up to the crest of the Syansk. 
The first days were the most trying ; in fact, the 
first struggle with the taiga was the most exhausting 
encounter with nature that we had ever experienced. 
The exertion of manipulating the caravan, of keeping 
the men up to the work, of ensuring their contentment 
in order to avoid mutiny — all this had to be borne, as well 
as the physical fatigue of plunging through stifling jungle, 
wading through bogs, and battling with innumerable and 
most voracious mosquitoes. The first stage from Kusha- 
bar to Petropavlovsk was twenty-six miles, and we took 
five days to accomplish it ! Into those twenty-six miles 
the most exasperating difficulties were crowded. We 
had frequently to start in the morning after a three or 
four hours' struggle with the horses and their packs ; often 
indeed this struggle was preceded by a hunt through the 
surrounding jungles for horses which had strayed, and 
was followed by endless labour with pack and pack- 
horses, which continued throughout the day. The loads 
were off the horses as much as on them, a continuous 
march for any length of time with the full quota of 




horses rarely occurred, for some horses had always fallen 
out by the way. The steep climbs up the ridges and 
the scrambles down the other side, made the loads still 
more likely to shift, and, at its best, the track could only 
be described as having once been a horse-track. 

During the second day's trek we met with rivers — 
small rivers, it is true, but of a sufficient depth to forbid 
fording. It was then we congratulated ourselves on 
having brought a folding-boat, and, in spite of the ridicule 
of the Siberian boatmen, who were incredulous as to a 
boat of canvas being really of any practical use, we suc- 
ceeded in ferrying our kit across the Bogart River in a 
couple of hours without mishap. The horses swam 
over the flood, and we packed again rapidly in order to 
continue our trek until dark. The canvas boat, of the 
" Accordian " pattern, journeyed with us all the way to 
Kulja in Turkestan. Owing to lack of time and oppor- 
tunity we did not make the use of it that we had intended. 
It was, however, of great use on a few special occasions ; 
it made up into two packs which constituted a light horse 
load, and it could be put into working order in a few 
minutes. We were generally able to ferry no less than 
four packs across a river at a time, and, if carefully 
handled, the boat would carry three men ; on account of 
being so lightly built it was unsafe to use in a very strong 
or turbid torrent. 

Beyond the Bogart River we entered a forest of ex- 
ceptional density, the virgin taiga of primeval character, 
where the trees were smaller and more closely grown 
together, while the ground was covered with a soft bed 
of moss and damp, sodden undergrowth. With a feeling 
of vague uncertainty, even of repulsion, we plunged 
almost blindly into this vast sea of choking vegetation, 


this turmoil of taiga, which hid from us all distance, 
and baulked all effort, which tied our hands and ob- 
structed our feet, in apparently grim determination to 
force back the intruders. With us was the almost 
overpowering sense of Nature being too strong for us, 
and at times it seemed absolute folly to battle against 
her. The horses appeared out of place, the baggage 
unnecessary and cumbersome, and we ourselves were 
dwarfed by this giant world of forest. We were of those, 
however, who become encouraged rather than dis- 
heartened by the presence of great odds, and these first 
days' struggle with the taiga appealed strongly to our 
imagination, making us indifferent to everything but the 
desire to advance. 

Nature here showed diabolical ingenuity in placing 
every conceivable obstacle in the way of the would-be 
explorer of her wilds. Human progress was hindered 
by vegetation, both alive and dead, by rushing streams 
in flood, by deep, stagnant lakes and treacherous bogs. 
These difficulties are expected, welcomed, and gladly 
faced by the real nature-worshipper. They represent 
the ordinary incidents of daily life when lived away from 
civilization. Travel without such experiences would be 
but a tame venture, scarcely worth the undertaking. 

On reaching the Black River, a small affluent of the 
Amil, we were stopped on our course by the deep, swift 
flood which cut across our track. This forced us to turn 
aside and follow the bank through a forest of even 
greater entanglement. Up till now we had been travel- 
ling over successive ridges where the hilly nature of 
the country had encouraged drainage, and the ground 
had become more or less dry ; but now we met the true 
taiga, or " swampy forest " — the real meaning of the 


word, as used in Siberia. Our struggling caravan made 
no more than a verst an hour, and the work was ex- 
tremely exhausting. Soft ground bogged the pack- 
animals, fallen timber caused many a pack to be thrown, 
and the closely grown trees necessitated continual axe- 
work before the horses could pass. 

It was a strange and weird experience. The endless 
forest, damp and dripping with the rot of ages, silent, 
sombre, and sodden, hemmed us in on every side. All 
that we saw was the tangle of growth, the young living 
forest springing up above the dead fallen timber which 
lay crosswise on the ground, trunk piled on trunk — 
three generations deep — all overgrown with moss, and 
treacherous to walk over. Around us hung the murky 
atmosphere of the jungle, above us festoons of lichen, 
showing hoary white against the dark pines, draped the 
trees and waved from the branches. We became more 
alive to the strange contrast of the living and the dead, 
when the deathlike silence was suddenly broken by the 
sound of the axe clearing the way for our advance, and 
by the cries of the men encouraging the horses, these 
sounds of life echoing through the lofty pines. A pro- 
found impression was made on me by these strenuous 
days — days when we pushed our caravan by sheer deter- 
mination across nature's inviolate boundaries. 

Anon we came to swampy bottoms, half-lake, half- 
forest, where growing trees stood foot-deep in stagnant 
water and fallen timber lay below the surface, rendering 
any advance most treacherous. These bogs looked so 
mysterious that if some prehistoric monster — some shiny- 
skinned amphibian, had suddenly raised its snaky head 
above the water to exchange glances with us — intruders, 
it would not have been surprising ; we should have felt 


that its presence was entirely in keeping with its sur- 
roundings, and was, in fact, far more natural than our 

The men worked well and silently during these trying 
treks. Their character as pioneers came strongly to the 
fore in the slow, plodding, indomitable spirit which 
plunges ahead, blindly and obstinately, in spite of all 
difficulties. I w r ell remember one stretch of bad ground, 
200 yards in length, which took us two hours to negotiate ; 
as soon as one fallen horse gained its feet, and was re- 
loaded, another went down, while the ropes had frequently 
to be cut in order to free the horses from their packs. 
I remember we used at dusk to throw ourselves down, 
exhausted, such a moment of slackness generally result- 
ing in lost horses, and obliging an aggravating hunt for 
them in the morning, over miles of surrounding jungle. 
The nights were not too pleasant ; we could not rest 
with any degree of comfort on account of the mosquitoes. 
Our camp used to present the hazy appearance of a pile 
of baggage and a tent or two surrounded by a dozen 
little camp-fires, and enveloped in smoke, caused by 
covering the fires with wet green grass. We were always 
in disagreement as to whether the prevention was better 
than the cure ; we were divided into two parties — those 
who preferred smoke to mosquitoes, and those who pre- 
ferred mosquitoes to smoke ! 

By superhuman axe-work on the part of Miller, as 
well as by the combined efforts of the whole party, the 
entire caravan — without loss or harm — was pushed 
through this trackless zone to the comparatively well- 
known settlement of Petropavlovsk. One day we sud- 
denly found a well-cleared track ; following this for a 
few miles, we were encouraged by the distant sounds of 


cocks crowing and of the lowing of cattle. At evening 
we came out of the forest on to the banks of the Amil, 
saw the familiar-looking log-huts, and received the kind 
welcome of some Siberian fishermen. With the aid of 
the local boatmen, the crossing of the Amil was accom- 
plished the next day. The horses swam the flood and 
landed on the south bank a quarter of a mile down- 
stream. The baggage was conveyed across the river in 
dug-out canoes, which the boatmen handled in an 
amazingly efficient way on the high flood. The trans- 
portation of the baggage took eight of these journeys, 
and it was not until evening that the whole of our ex- 
pedition was encamped on the farther bank of the river. 
The Amil here was about 180 to 200 yards wide, and 
flowed in a single channel. From this point our track 
led us at a more rapid rate, those accustomed to use 
this route being here forced to travel by land instead of 
by water — it is on this account that this part of the trail 
has been kept fairly open. 

The aspect of the surrounding country now changed 
considerably. The dense, unbroken expanse of forest 
was relieved by large areas of natural meadow's. From 
points of vantage — for we were now again climbing and 
descending ridges — we saw nearly as much open country 
as forest. These patches were overgrown with fine 
grass and many flowers, and hemmed in by the dark 
belts of forest. We obtained some magnificent views 
from these open meadows. To the north rose a wild 
turmoil of hills leading up to some fairly high peaks, 
but clouds overhung the summits and we could only 
just see the snows. The sensation of climbing, of being 
gradually lifted out of the stifling forest, was most ex- 
hilarating. During the following days we reached a 


height of 2,000 ft., and finally passed over the ridge of 
Chokerok at an altitude of 3,200 ft. Here for the first 
time we found snow. It lay deep amongst the pines at 
the summit of the ridge, and some skill was needed in 
order to manoeuvre the caravan across without mishap. 

When we reached the Amil again we found that it 
had considerably decreased in size. It was now only 
80 to 100 yards across, and the volume of water was 
quite inconsiderable. Only one tributary of any size 
joins the Amil between here and Petropavlovsk — the 
Kandat ; I am inclined to think, on this account, that 
the latter river is really very much larger than it has 
been reported to be. 

A few days of river-crossings and forest-travel brought 
us to the foot of the main ridge. We now began to 
realize the true character of the Syansk Range. At this 
point, at any rate, it was obvious that its topography 
was very different to what we had supposed it to be, and 
its physical features in no way corresponded to their 
representation on existing maps. Before us we noted 
a low, rounded, forested ridge possessing neither rugged 
summits nor " drifted snow and naked boulder/' nor 
even ground above the tree-zone. We passed over the 
actual watershed at an altitude of 4,524 ft. above sea- 
level, the track lying over a small col (the Ahgiak Pass) 
situated between forested hills. For this reason no vast 
panorama of the isolated basin beyond awaited our 
eager eyes. The Syansk Range, nowhere composing 
a high uplift, has, in this particular part, a remarkable 
break in its chain, forming three or four passes, all of 
them at a low altitude. Far to the east and far to 
the west we noticed higher summits, sudden, broken 
uplifts, the special feature of the Syansk Mountains. . 





In marked contrast with this sudden dip in the 
range in its central portion, a single isolated peak rose 
above the forest. We at once turned off the track into 
the tangled forest, and plunged blindly ahead in the 
direction of the snow-patched summit. Our hopes were 
concentrated on this peak ; we dared hope our goal would 
here be in sight, and that at last, from its cold summit, 
we might gaze down into the mysterious basin of the 
Upper Yenisei — the region of our hearts' desire. 



The low altitude of the Syansk Range considerably 
minimized the glamour surrounding the secluded basin 
of the Upper Yenisei which lay ahead of us. The secret 
valley below could be reached without any clambering 
over sky-scraping ridges or difficult passes. The Syansk 
Range did not give the impression of being a great 
barrier ; yet the seclusion of the basin is complete. 
This is owing more probably to the impenetrable and 
hostile forest-zone, which, even more than the mountain- 
ranges, is effective in preserving intact the mysteries of 
this region. 

Sending the main caravan ahead to await our arrival 
on the banks of the Upper Sisti-Kem, Miller, Price, 
and I, with a couple of Russians, plunged blindly into 
the forest, and steered as direct a course as possible 
towards the summit, which we had marked out as being 
a possible point of vantage. When buried in the depths 
of the forest, however, it was no easy matter to find our 
way, and we had repeatedly to resort to the expedient 
of climbing some trees and felling others to get some idea 
of the position of our goal. When, on these occasions, 
we caught sight of the cool snows showing up behind the 
dark pines, we often found that we had been travelling 

1 This chapter, describing the physical features of the basin, is of 
interest to few save geographers, and can be omitted by the general reader. 



steadily in a wrong direction, and it was only after many 
false attempts that, late in the day, we emerged from the 
jungle on to upland meadows, knee-deep in marigolds, 
and covered with luxuriant bog-plants, and camped on 
the edge of the tree-line below the peak. The next day 
we climbed over banks covered with dwarf rhododendron, 
on to slopes of moss and lichen, which led up to rocky 
skrees culminating in a snow-patched summit. 

We greatly appreciated the change when at length, 
after eleven days of toilsome jungle and curtailed views, 
we climbed triumphant to the summit above the forests 
and gazed down for the first time into the romantic 
region beyond. The form of the mountain was that of a 
table, and its flat top was composed of a jumble of granite 
boulders ; moss, lichen, and dwarf rhododendron grew 
even at its highest altitude in places where there was 
sufficient soil, while a few patches of snow were still 
lying in deep drifts. Beyond and below us were long 
reaches of pleasant country, park-like meadows brilliant 
with wild-flowers, with depths of sombre forest to give 
contrast ; here and there glistened a winding river, and 
far away were the rocky summits of distant ranges. 

The scenery was a study in opposites, giving a wealth 
of beauty in detail, but a lack of beauty as a whole. 
Nothing could be more monotonous than the endless 
expanses of unbroken forest, nothing more beautiful 
than the flower-spangled meadows, and nothing more 
striking than the upheavals of bare, jagged peaks that 
rise suddenly out of the forest. Overlooking the forests, 
the dreary monotony of the landscape brings a feeling 
of repulsion, as ridge after ridge of endless, sodden jungle 
opens up before one, and uninspiring vistas of forest 
stretch to the far horizon. A hundred miles of desolate 


sand-waste is not so repulsive. In a desert-land even, 
the scenery does not affect the traveller with a feeling 
of such hopeless uniformity. There, the eyes strain 
their gaze with searching ; they are fascinated by and 
intoxicated with the sense of light, colour, and distance ; 
the very mystery of the desert is inviting, and its air 
invigorating. But a view of the taiga — the swamp- 
forest of the north-land — chokes all such feelings. The 
whole impression given by the banks of pines, with their 
sorrowful downward-drooping lines, and the falling out- 
lines of the scenery is one of depression. The eyes alone 
find rest and satisfaction when they alight on some jagged 
mass of snow-covered rock and crag, which has the 
appearance of being thrown up out of the forest towards 
the sky, where altitude defies the tree-growth and where 
naked rock holds sway. 

For a long time we gazed, drinking in the essential 
features of the landscape. So fascinated were we by the 
mystery of the unexplored country ahead, that we almost 
forgot to take our bearings by prismatic compass on to the 
more prominent peaks that showed up towards the east, 
and to record the hypsometric readings for altitude. 
Far to the west rose the higher summits of the Aradansk 
and Usinsk groups ; far to the east — after a gap of some 
miles — rose other summits, situated no doubt on the main- 
range of the Syansk. It was difficult, however, to under- 
stand the lie of the land ; the line of the watershed could 
not easily be followed, the uplifts being exceedingly 
broken and disconnected, and out-lying spurs and ranges 
rose obviously to a higher altitude than the actual water- 
shed. The snow-capped ranges to the east and north- 
east, which we could only just discern, attracted us 
strongly, knowing them to be the first glimpse of the 


M New Land " ; a region indeed where " the mountains 
are nameless and the rivers all run God knows where/ ' 

This first view of the Upper Yenisei basin left a 
new impression on me. I realized that this region, 
although within the limits of the Chinese Empire, 
is essentially Siberian in character. It is an integral 
part of Siberia, its drainage flows to Siberia and the 
Arctic, the conditions (at least so far as we could see 
in the northern part of it) as well as the climate, are 
Siberian rather than Mongolian. Orographically, it is 
naturally the first terrace of the Mongolian plateau, but, 
as the Syansk Mountains form no true boundary, the 
flora and fauna of Siberia have overflowed across the 
border-ranges and given the basin a northern character. 
Physically, politically, and economically the basin should 
belong to Russia, and not to Mongolia, and the inevitable 
absorption of this region by the Siberian element could 
easily be imagined. Nevertheless, at present the basin 
remains politically a part of Mongolia, thus showing how 
absolutely it is shut off and protected from Russian ter- 
ritory. As a result of certain topographical features this 
region comes more into contact with Mongolia than with 
Siberia ; the influence of a western trade must, however, 
gradually overcome the natural difficulties of the barrier 
and eventually bring it into closer relationship with 

At this point of vantage — the summit of the 
Syansk — it would be advisable to call a halt, in order to 
reconsider and carefully note the physical features of 
this interesting and remote region. It is unnecessary 
that the order of presenting the information should 
coincide precisely with the itinerary of our journey. 
It is my wish to deal with the information we collected 


in sections, according to the subject under discussion, and 
to describe each as a whole instead of scattering them 
broadcast throughout the volume, as would naturally 
be the case if our experiences were given precisely as they 
chanced to occur on the line of march. These observa- 
tions on the topography of the basin are the result of our 
journey, which occupied the following two months. 

The basin of the Upper Yenisei comprises an area of 
about 64,000 sq. miles, and is watered by the two main 
heads of the Great Yenisei, namely, the Kemchik, and the 
Ulu-Kem, with its two sources the Khua-Kem and Bei- 
Kem. The entire drainage of the basin is caught by these 
rivers, and is let out through a narrow defile towards the 
Siberian plains. Topographically the basin is a mountain- 
girt region, shut off from the Siberian plains to the north, 
and in a lesser degree shut off from the Mongolian plateau 
to the south. Towards the west the mountain-wall 
merges into the Altai ranges, and towards the far east 
the encircling barriers divide this basin from the Baikal 
depression. So unique is the position of this basin, that 
a detailed description of its physical features is neces- 
sary in order to understand the curious position it holds ; 
for the geography of such a region is the most potent 
factor in deciding the climate, fauna, and flora, as well as 
ethnological characteristics. The special characteristic of 
this region is its being an isolated basin, and it is in order 
to thoroughly appreciate the nature and conditions of the 
tribes inhabiting it, that we must first realize the unusual 
significance of its topography. 

Broadly speaking, the basin of the Upper Yenisei 
constitutes a portion of the great plateau of Eastern Asia. 
It lies within the boundary limits of the plateau, as repre- 
sented by the encircling border-ranges, yet, being of a 





; c 

•^ H 

1 H 



1 ■ *N 

-i .. 


slightly lower altitude than the true plateau, it represents 
rather the first step from the Siberian plain up to the 
Mongolian highland ; it might, therefore, be described as 
a lower terrace of the latter. In altitude the floor of 
the basin, at its lowest level, is 1,656 ft. above sea-level, 
whereas the Siberian plain, at a distance of about 30 
miles from the border-ranges, is but 900 ft. above sea- 
level. On this terrace rise the main sources of the Yenisei, 
just as the Selenga sources of the Angara tributary of the 
Yenisei rise a short distance away, and descend from the 
plateau in an opposite direction towards Lake Baikal. 
Caught and hemmed in as these rivers are by the sur- 
rounding ranges, they have joined forces and cut a deep 
trench which conducts the drainage from the plateau 
to the lowlands, by a more or less gentle gradient. This 
is the case with all the rivers which rise on the Mongolian 
plateau or its lower terraces, and which find their way 
through deep-cut gorges on to the plains below. 

The border-ranges, however, present the most interest- 
ing study from an orographical point of view. Up to the 
present, the size of these ranges has been represented in 
proportion to the importance of the watershed. And 
yet it is a well-known fact that a divide between Arctic 
and Pacific waters is often scarcely noticeable in actual 
nature, although, as a parting line, for water destined 
to flow into such widely separated oceans, it might 
well be supposed to need intensification on the map. 
These giant watersheds have, as often as not, been created 
by the cartographers at home. A representation of the 
proportionate altitudes of the ranges enclosing the basin, 
and of North-western Mongolia, has never before been 
attempted. It would be difficult to get any idea of such 
ranges, except by continual ascents and by taking 


numerous readings for altitude. In the instance of the 
Syansk, as well as in other cases on the map of those 
regions we traversed during the course of our journey, 
we wished to obliterate the artificial lines of demarcation 
denoting the frontiers of Empire, in order to give greater 
strength to and a truer idea of the orography of the 
mountain-ranges. The frontier-lines cause regions to 
appear divided when no real division is there. We would 
depict the boundaries of Inner Asia from a geographical 
and not an empirical point of view. The map accom- 
panying this volume is intended to give a true idea of 
the topography of the region. 

The basin of the Upper Yenisei may be roughly de- 
scribed as of pear-shape formation, lying east and west, 
with the stem towards the west. On the north the 
Syansk Range encloses about half the basin. This range 
merges into the Altai system on the west, and on the 
east it is lost in the nameless ranges that form the 
divide between the basin of Lake Baikal and Lake 
Kossogol. On the south the Tannu-ola performs the 
same duty as the Syansk and corresponds to it. On 
the east alone the border-ranges are lacking in character. 
Here there is a fault in the nearly universal north-east 
to south-west trend of the border-ranges of the Asiatic 
plateau, and for a gap of 120 miles we have a broken 
and rather featureless divide lying in a north-west to 
south-east direction. 

The Syansk Range extends for some 300 to 400 miles, 
and, from our own observation, it presents a complex 
chain of no uniformity, a series of disconnected uplifts. 
Want of symmetry in these uplifts, as well as a difference 
in the structure and texture of the rocks, has caused 
the chain to be of great irregularity. As an unbroken 


range the Syansk does not exist. The watershed forms 
great zigzags, and the upper waters of the rivers flowing 
off to the north and south are dovetailed into each 
other. The main direction of the chain is from south- 
west to north-east, but there are numerous offshoots, — 
subsidiary spurs, — which have a general trend from south- 
east to north-west, such as the Aradansk and Kandat, 
which form a portion of the border-ranges ; and the 
Chapsa, Tastandi, and Ogarka-ola ranges, which stand 
isolated, inside the basin. The Syansk is merely one 
small section of the northern border-range of the 
great plateau of Eastern Asia, which is continuous right 
across Asia from the Caspian to the Sea of Okhotsk. 

The southern border-range, as well as forming the 
southern wall hemming in the basin and making its 
isolation complete, stands as the second step up to the 
main plateau of Mongolia, and incidentally acts as the 
watershed between the Arctic and inland self-contained 
basins of Mongolia. This range — the Tannu-ola — runs 
nearly due east and west, has a length of about 350 
miles, and is very evenly formed, with no especially high 
summits, or low cols, nor has it spurs or off-shoots of 
any note. In fact, the Tannu-ola is a range of remark- 
ably soft outline. The summits are flat-topped, and 
the slopes descend in easy, terraced declines. On an 
average the summits rise to 8,000 ft., and the actual 
passes are 6,800 ft. The passes are flat-topped, and the 
gradients leading up to them are very easy. We only 
crossed the Tannu-ola in two places, and both of the 
crossings were in the western portion ; but, from all 
accounts, this characteristic is preserved throughout its 
entire length. As will be seen from our description, 
the Tannu-ola differs from the Syansk, both as regards 


its formation and its climate, and on this account as 
regards its fauna and flora. 

The two main walls of the basin meet on the west 
in the Sailugem Range, a portion of the Altai group. 
Here the barrier is even greater in magnitude, for the 
peaks that rise up at the far western end of the basin, 
at the sources of the Kemchik, reach an altitude of over 
10,000 ft. Towards the east alone is the mountain-wall 
varied by a change in direction. Here for a considerable 
space the watershed runs in a line from south-east to 
north-west ; nevertheless, the wall is complete, as this 
portion of the barrier attains to altitudes of 6,000 to 
7,000 ft., and connects, without a break, the Syansk on 
the north with the Tannu-ola on the south. 

These are the ramparts which have protected the 
basin from foreign intrusion, which have kept the 
hidden valleys inviolate, and which have formed a safe 
retreat for ihe tribes, who, recognizing their protective 
qualities, have made good use of their natural fast- 
nesses. From the summits of the southern border-range, 
no doubt, the Mongol hordes, eager for conquest, gazed 
down enviously into the basin and realized that the 
land that lay before them was not for them. They 
looked at a region of frowning forests and rugged 
mountains, antagonistic, both of them, to mobility and 
to desert warfare, and then turned back again to the 
free steppes and boundless plateaux which for ever 
called them towards the west. The more enterprising 
Uigurs, indeed, penetrated into and finally passed 
through the basin, tempted by the rich plains which 
lay beyond. Their ephemeral empire existed outside 
the basin, and quite distinct from it. 

In these present days the ambitions of a western 

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Power halt before the same barrier, and the Upper Yeni- 
sei basin still remains intact, shunned alike by China- 
man and Russian. Natural conditions have created 
the political situation, and Geography has thus once 
more proved herself to be the basis of History. Now 
let us study the interior of the basin and note what 
potent effects this borderland of mountains has had 
upon the heart of the land. 

Firstly, it must be noted that the floor of the basin 
between the border-ranges is not an even plain, but is 
broken by serrated ridges with a trend either east and 
west, or south-east and north-west. One main up- 
heaval is especially noticeable, namely, that one which 
divides itself off from the Syansk at the head-waters of 
the Uss River, and extends across the basin towards the 
east until lost in the eastern border-range of Shargak- 
taiga. This uplift, under the names of Tashkil, Sin- 
taiga, Artcol, and Ogarka-ola, is continuous, but is 
broken in one place by a remarkable rift, where the Bei- 
Kem River cuts through the barrier in a deep-cut gorge.] 

The whole of the eastern portion of the basin, from 
the junction of the Bei-Kem and Khua-Kem, may be 
described as mountainous. There are wide flats beside 
the rivers, and there are some beautiful, open, rolling 
downlands in the upper Bei-Kem region, but, on the 
whole, the eastern portion gives the impression of being 
hill-country, for the traveller is never out of view of 
those ridges of naked rock which crown the summits 
of all highlands above the forest-line. The central 
portion, especially that part which lies to the south of 
the Ulu-Kem and the eastern Kemchik, represents the 
more open area, a region of steppe or rolling downs, 
without encumbering ranges. The far western portion, 


namely, the Upper Kemchik, is again a region of high- 
lands, much the same in character as the far eastern 

The orography of the interior of the basin decides 
the very important question of the floristic conditions. 
The basin is, in its own little area, a very marked 
transition zone — a zone which leads one from Siberia to 
Mongolia, from damp forests to arid steppe. Generally 
speaking, the steppe-lands lie on the southern borders 
of the basin, and in its central part. This is partly 
owing to altitude, for in such a region, where the 
steppe-land is obviously encroaching gradually upon the 
forest zone, the aridity producing such conditions has an 
initial effect on the land which lies at the lowest altitude. 

Even in the upper basin we noticed little isolated 
bits of country in the process of becoming deforested, 
and drier ; but they were always situated close along the 
river banks and nearly always at the mouths of tribu- 
taries which entered the main rivers from the north. 
This was especially noticeable at the mouths of the 
right affluents of the Bei-Kem, and there is a most 
pleasant bit of grass-land, devoid of heavy forest, in the 
Dora-Kern steppes of the upper Bei-Kem, which, al- 
though far removed from the arid zone, presents the 
features of the more desiccated region. Dry, grassy hills 
and larch groves extend in marked contrast to the 
damp, forest-ridden ranges which surround it on all 
sides. The central steppe extends some way up the 
Kemchik ; but, farther west than the Chedan Valley, 
hill-country causes more forest and allows a smaller 
area of a suitable altitude for steppe-conditions. Never- 
theless, the whole of the western portion of the basin 
is considerably drier than the east. 


Looking at the basin as a whole, we are in a posi- 
tion to define certain main lines, which determine the 
limits of various kinds of vegetation ; these, by their 
character, show the successive changes of the conditions 
from damp to dry. In proceeding southwards, a radical 
change is noticed ; the damp forest area gradually 
gives way to a drier and more Central Asiatic type of 
country. Vegetation becomes scarcer, forests are re- 
stricted to the northern slopes of the hills, and true 
steppe-conditions hold the valleys, and gradually creep 
up the slopes which possess a southern aspect. The 
natives of the forest, who live in birch-bark tepees and 
exist on reindeer, are replaced by herdsmen of a more 
u arid " type, who utilize as dwellings those tents of 
felt which, in method of construction and use, may be 
said to stand as an emblem of a dry climate. Even 
methods of cultivation are practised, and, on account of 
greater ease in transport and communication, men seem 
to be less indolent. There are, indeed, many marked 
differences condensed within a narrow area. 

It remains for us to enumerate the zones and their 
dividing lines. First we have the Syansk, as moist on 
the north as it is on the south, and producing the same 
flora on both its flanks. Farther south, at a point mid- 
way between the Algiak Pass and the mouth of the 
Sisti-Kem, begin the larch forests, which demonstrate a 
marked change in the conditions towards a drier and 
more sunny clime. Another line, which cuts across 
the basin on about parallel 52 ° N., delimitates the 
northern edge of the steppe-zone. Forests here begin 
to loose their hold of the southern slopes. The hills in 
the neighbourhood of the Uiuk Valley, for instance, show 
the typical Asiatic aspect of barren southern, and heavily 


forested northern, slopes. When we begin to climb the 
northern foot-hills of the southern border-range, after 
passing the low, dry, tree-less central zone, forests again 
appear, but they are neither in such profusion nor is their 
character the same as those of the Syansk. Larch pre- 
dominates, the spruce mostly disappears. On reaching 
the summits of the Tannu-ola we see before us the end- 
less vistas of barren Mongolia, to all appearances destitute 
of tree-growth. The watershed of the Tannu-ola makes 
a general dividing-line between Siberian and Mongolian 
flora ; but it can be only taken as the boundary in a 
very broad sense, for the different zones overlap one 

In ages gone by, this region was subject to the 
same extreme glacial conditions as Europe, but it is 
probable that the Ice Age here was not so severe as 
might be expected, owing to that vast inland sea, 
an Asiatic Mediterranean, which then covered half 
North-west Asia, and reached from the present Arctic 
Ocean to the heart of Asia, and which rendered the 
climate much milder than it would otherwise have been. 
The plateau-region, however, must have been subject 
to considerable glaciation, and, on the recession of the 
ice and the formation of innumerable lakes, the upper 
portion of the basin assumed the typical post-glacial 
appearance of an Asiatic upland. The plateau of Tibet 
has had the same history and shows the same present-day 
conditions. The eastern or upper part of the basin is 
consequently a lake-land, and innumerable sheets of 
water of various sizes drain the uppermost sources 
towards the Bei-Kem and Khua-Kem waterways. This 
lake-dotted region is one of the features of the basin, 
and is of surpassing beauty. Of its scenery, its inhabit- 


ants, and its wonderful fisheries we shall have more to 
say anon. 

Along the western slopes of the semicircle of ranges, 
formed by the bends of the Tannu-ola and the Syansk 
inwards towards the Ergik and Shargak Taiga ranges, 
rise the three main sources of the Great Yenisei. From a 
thousand streamlets, and innumerable marshes, start the 
many-headed tributaries of the Bei-Kem, the Kamsara, 
and Khua-Kem. Gathering many an affluent from the 
Syansk and Tannu-ola, these rivers flow westwards at an 
average altitude of 2,800 ft. until they meet and form 
the Ulu-Kem. From their respective sizes at the point 
of juncture, it appeared to us that the Khua-Kem was 
very much the smaller of the two rivers. As the rivers 
here flowed in single channels over a flat country, and 
at an even speed, it was fairly easy to judge their pro- 
portionate sizes. It is difficult to decide which river can 
claim to be the true source of the Yenisei. The Khua- 
Kem rises farthest east, but the Bei-Kem is by far the 
larger stream. Of the two heads of the latter, the Kam- 
sara and the main Bei-Kem, there is little doubt that 
the Kamsara carries the larger volume, and is the main 
source of the water-supply which goes to form the Upper 
Yenisei. The difference in the volume of the Bei-Kem 
and Khua-Kem rivers is entirely dependent upon the 
rainfall of the respective areas they flow through. Thus, 
from the greater size of the rivers in the north of the 
basin as compared with those of the south, it will be 
noticed what a difference in rainfall there is over a 
comparatively small area. 

The Ulu-Kem continues its way due westwards down 
the central basin as far as Cha-Kul. At this point it turns 
northwards and enters a rugged mountain-country. The 


entire western portion of the basin drains by means of 
the Kemchik towards this point. The Kemchik — or The 
Little River — drains a considerable, but a drier region, 
and its smaller rainfall lessens the amount of its water- 
volume. Its sources lie in the semicircle of ranges formed 
by the Western Syansk, the Sailugem, and the Western 
Tannu-ola. In the case of the first two, the sources rise 
on the slopes of mountains which do not get the maximum 
amount of rainfall ; and in the case of the Tannu-ola, 
even its northern slopes, whence rise the other tributaries 
of the Kemchik, are considerably drier than the southern 
slopes of the Western Syansk. There are a few lakes in 
the Kemchik basin, but they are not a feature of it, as 
is the case with the sources of the Bei-Kem. In fact, 
generally speaking, it appears that the lakes are already 
partially desiccated, and in some cases have no outlet. 
The Kemchik unites with the Ulu-Kem in a rugged hill- 
country, and, in conjunction, they flow northwards through 
a narrow defile — called the Kemchik Bom — in the Syansk 
border-range. This is the only outlet to the drainage of 
the basin. For a hundred miles the river, which now 
becomes the Yenisei in name, winds through a labyrinth 
of mountain ranges, drops from 1,600 ft. to 900 ft. in 
its passage through the Syansk barrier, and flows out 
on to the Abakan steppe, the threshold of Siberia. 

Great water-ways, especially if running through the 
heart of a continent, and in a country where travel by 
land is peculiarly difficult and communication easily cut 
off, tend to largely attract life and trade, and to give 
vitality to a region which might otherwise remain un- 
developed. If it were not for the waters of the Upper 
Yenisei, the whole Uriankhai basin would have remained 
unbroken ground and untouched by the outside world. 


The river forms the one means of easy transport, and the 
three main sources, the Bei-Kem, the Khua-Kem, and the 
Kemchik, open up lines of communication to the farthest 
corners of the basin. Men can pole their canoes up- 
stream at the rate of from twenty to thirty miles a day, 
and by the use of rafts they can convey great cargoes of 
fish or merchandise down-stream at a speed of even fifty 
miles a day. The outlying colonies which we afterwards 
came in contact with in the upper basin, and which 
seemed to us so cut off from the others after our 
traverse of the forest-route, are in reality within a 
ten-days* journey by raft of the Siberian town of 

The navigation of the rivers within the basin is 
not accomplished without serious drawbacks. The Ulu- 
Kem is not free from ice until mid-April, and after that 
date the navigation is often obstructed by sudden 
floods. Then, on account of the incredible amount 
of timber brought down by the floods, all boat-work 
is stopped. A recent Russian traveller estimated the 
velocity of the Ulu-Kem, in normal water, at from three 
and a half to four miles per hour, whilst in flood the 
velocity exceeded seven miles per hour. 

The other obstacles inside the basin are the rapids of 
the Bei-Kem, which the Siberians are in the habit of 
negotiating by means of strongly built rafts on the 
downward journey, and by the portage of their canoes 
when coming up from the lower reaches. The Kemchik 
Bom obstructs the passage of all up-stream navigation 
from the Minnusinsk plain to the Ulu-Kem, and it is only 
by the use of good rafts that the boatmen drift down- 
stream through the gorges and over the rapids. The 
canoes and boats on the rivers of the basin remain there 


permanently, whilst rafts are specially constructed for 
the passage of the Kemchik Bom. The sale of the timber 
of which these rafts are constructed, adds quite a nice 
bit to the pockets of the adventurous watermen who 
manage them, and who easily sell it for firewood in the 
treeless Minnusinsk steppe. 

The distance between Cha-Kul on the lower Ulu- 
Kem and Krasnoyarsk is 920 miles, and the difference 
in altitude is 1,115 ft. The greatest proportion of the 
drop, however, is concentrated into about 100 miles, 
which constitutes the passage of the river through the 
Syansk Range, the difference in altitude here being over 
700 ft. in the hundred miles. We did not actually 
make the passage of the Kemchik Bom ("Bom" means 
gorge, or defile), but, from all accounts, it affords excite- 
ment on account of the series of rapids which make 
navigation dangerous. The Kemchik unites with the 
Ulu-Kem in a gorge not more than 30 yards wide, 
where the current is estimated at 40 miles an hour. 

North of the tributary called Uss the most dangerous 
rapids exist, and from here onwards for another fifty 
miles the river drops by successive falls to the level of 
the plain of Minnusinsk. Experienced pilots are in the 
habit of running cargoes from the Bei-Kem and Ulu- 
Kem down to the Siberian Yenisei, and, with such men 
to depend on, the journey can be accomplished without 
much risk. The journey from Cha-Kul to Minnusinsk 
is reckoned to take from three to five days. 

There are, unfortunately, no statistics of the meteoro- 
logy of the basin ; such statistics would be of the utmost 
interest as showing more clearly the cause for the con- 
trasts of scenery. The winters are severe, but not of 
the severity of the open Siberian Plain. Much snow falls 


in certain localities, whilst others are remarkably free. 
At Skobieff, for instance, I was told that the cattle 
manage to feed themselves throughout the whole winter, 
which shows that the meadow-land cannot be covered 
with snow to any great depth. The open areas, such 
as the Dora-Kern in the Upper Basin and the Cha-Kul 
region in the centre, do not experience much snow, and 
in consequence it is in these open localities that the 
natives congregate during the winter months. Snow 
lies deeper and remains later into the summer on the 
northern forested ranges, but the Tannu-ola, with a 
considerable snowfall on its northern flanks, has but 
little on the south, and the snow soon melts away in the 

The rainfall of the basin has the same local varia- 
tions, the fall being the heaviest in the north and east 
and lessening in the south and west. July is probably 
the wettest month. We experienced, in this month, 
rain-storms of exceptional violence and long duration, 
both in the north-east and in the central part of the 
basin. On the Upper Bei-Kem, on July ioth and nth, 
there was a continual downpour lasting twenty-six 
hours, and throughout that month violent thunder- 
storms were to be seen at all points of the compass. At 
Cha-Kul, at the end of July, the Ulu-Kem rose to a flood- 
height on account of heavy rain in the upper part of 
the basin, and at the same season in the same locality 
we noticed the daily phenomenon of awe-inspiring 
thunder-storms generating on the western Syansk and 
following along that range towards the east, without 
affecting the inner basin. 

The driest portion of the basin is undoubtedly the 
south-western region, which stretches along the south 


bank of the Ulu-Kem and Kemchik, and which lies be- 
tween those rivers and the Tannu-ola. The Kemchik 
region is especially dry, and it possesses a better climate 
than any other part of the basin ; for, being sheltered 
from the north, south, and west, the Kemchik gets but 
the residue of the heavy rains coming from the west, 
which are mostly caught by the Syansk and Sailugem 
ranges. This region of the Kemchik gets an earlier 
summer, which is a great asset at so high a latitude. 
The area best suited for colonization I should place as 
the zone where the forest and the steppe conditions are 
waging war on each other. This zone, which is neither 
too dry nor too wet, runs in a belt across the centre of the 
basin . The chief Siberian settlements — such as Safianoff 's, 
Toran, and the Uiuk — are all situated in this zone. 

Broadly speaking, the climate can be described as 
mid-continental. There are sharp and sudden changes 
and great variations between the summer and the winter 
temperatures. Ostrovsky gives the extreme ranges of 
the thermometer from 30 Fahr. in winter to 103 in 
summer. The only reliable readings for summer tem- 
perature taken by us were at Cha-Kul, on the lowest 
part of the floor of the basin, and in the open zone of the 
steppe. Here during three days, from July 24th to 
26th, the thermometer gave an average maximum 
temperature of 101 Fahr., and a minimum temperature 
of 51-5° Fahr. 

The reader may do well to fix in his mind the exact 
position of the few routes which cross the basin, and 
the passes which allow traffic in and out of it. It has 
already been shown why the surrounding border-land 
of mountains controls the ways of communication; it 
now remains to describe the actual routes. Two fea- 


tures determine the position of the tracks which enter 
the basin, namely, the position of the passes and the 
location of the Mongolian and Siberian centres of trade 
which the routes connect. Minnusinsk is the only town 
on the north, and Uliassutai and Kobdo are the only 
settlements on the south of the basin ; we find, therefore, 
only two main routes running between these towns. 
Many little passes cut the ranges at unexpected and 
out-of-the-way places ; but these, and the tracks which 
cross them, are only used by small traders and trappers. 

The Syansk is habitually crossed by travellers in 
four places. In the east there is the Algiak Pass be- 
tween the Upper Amil and the Sisti-Kem (altitude 
4,482 ft.). This is the most direct route between the 
villages of the Amil and the upper basin, but it is little 
used on account of the paucity of travellers in these 
regions. The second pass to the west is the Uss-Uiuk 
Pass, an easy and well-used track connecting the colonies 
situated in the two valleys of those names. Between 
this col and the impassable jumble of hills surrounding 
the Kemchik Bom lies the third and best-known route 
—the Kurtushi— which connects Cha-Kul, the chief 
centre of the basin, with the north. This pass is, accord- 
ing to Kriloff, only 4,320 ft. in altitude ; but Chalon, who 
apparently went by the same route, gives 6,625 ft- as 
the altitude of the watershed. West of the Kemchik 
Bom, connecting the Kemchik Valley with the Abakan 
steppes to its north, is the fourth pass, called the Shabin- 
daba. The route which crosses this pass may be de- 
scribed as the only feasible trade-route which connects 
Siberia and Mongolia, by way of the Upper Yenisei basin. 

These four routes enter the basin from the north, and 
pass out on the south by two main passes and several 


subsidiary tracks. On the west is the Borashay Pass 
(at 6,854 ft')i leading direct southwards to Kobdo ; a 
more important route, however, is the one which branches 
off from this track at the point where it crosses the 
Kemchik River, and leads eastwards along the southern 
edge of the basin to a pass called the Shamar-daba, 
which crosses the Tannu-ola and leads to well-populated 
and important centres of Mongol life on the Tess River, 
to the trading centre at Uliassutai, and the religious 
centre of Urga. This line of communication which runs 
between Uliassutai and the Abakan steppes is the old 
caravan-route which has always been in use. The track 
entirely avoids forested or wet country ; no difficulties 
or obstacles are found en route, and it represents the 
line of march of all the ancient invaders of the Minnu- 
sinsk plains. A portion of this road has been built up 
by human agency into a fine high-road, which alone 
shows the importance which must once have been 
attached to the route. 

Between the Cha-Kul Valley and the Kemchik River 
we found a well-built high-road, six yards in width, raised 
above the level of the surrounding steppe and having 
a ditch on either side. The surface was as smooth and 
well-metalled as an English high-road. Passing caravans, 
which generally make a row of deep parallel grooves 
caused by the horses or camels following each other in 
single file, here had made no impression on the surface. 
It ran with Roman directness between the two points 
here mentioned — a distance of about fifty miles. 1 It 

1 Howorth, in his History of the Mongols, recounts, amongst the doings 
of a certain Lobdyang Taishi — one of the Altai Khans of North-western 
Mongolia, in 1657 — the building of " a winding road which he made over 
the mountains called Khonin-Tag, for the passage from Mongolia to 
Siberia " ; it was, no doubt, a portion of this route that we discovered. 


appeared incredible to us that any volume of trade 
could necessitate the building up of so formidable a 
route. Its object remains inexplicable. The area it 
crosses needs no road-building to make transport pos- 
sible. The ground is hard, smooth steppe, suitable to 
every kind of traffic ; therefore road-making seems to be 
a labour-wasting folly. Were the country soft, wet 
marsh-land or damp forest, there might have been some 
reason for the arduous labour this work must have 
entailed. All we can infer from its presence is that once 
this region must have been of greater importance, many 
more caravans must have been in the custom of using 
the route, and a greater amount of communication must 
have existed between Mongolia and Siberia. 

This route, as I have explained, is the only one 
entitled to the position of a trade-route. The greater 
portion of it can be used for wheeled traffic. From 
Uliassutai over the Tannu-ola to the Kemchik, the 
route is passable for carts ; but the passage of the Syansk 
over to the Abakan steppes is, I believe, impossible for 
anything but pack-animals. The Kemchik-Borashay 
route is feasible for camels and just passable for carts, 
for the pass has a very easy gradient and there are no 
obstacles in the shape of rocks ; in fact, there would be 
nothing to hinder the building of a route for wheeled 
traffic between Kobdo in Mongolia and Minnusinsk, 
neither would it entail great labour or expense. As a 
matter of fact, it will be seen, in our descriptions of North- 
western Mongolia, that there is another and easier outlet 
for Mongolian trade, namely, the track which leads over 
the Altai Mountains direct to the head-waters of the Ob. 
Thus the Tannu-ola route can only be considered a route 
of secondary importance. All other tracks in the 


basin must be put down as only passable for pack- 
animals, and only at great expense could they be built 
up into roads for wheeled traffic. 

Between the basin and Mongolia there are several 
tracks that are less known. The route, for instance, be- 
tween Cha-Kul and Lake Ubsa can be used in preference 
to the Borashay Pass, whilst in the far east the head- 
waters of the Khua-Kem are connected with the region of 
Lake Kossogol and the upper tributaries of the Selenga. 
In the far west the traveller can pass across the head- 
waters of the Kemchik River into North-western Mongolia, 
and even over into Russian territory to the head-waters 
of the Ob River. These tracks are, however, scarcely 
used except by explorers, or wandering hunters. I 
have stated elsewhere that the far eastern wall of the 
basin, which divides off the country of Lake Baikal 
and Lake Kossogol, is also cut by several passes of 
no great altitude ; but these are only reindeer-paths 
and native tracks, which do not help, in any great 
measure, to relieve the impenetrability of this part of 
the basin. 

These are the main topographical features of the 
basin, the short resume of which will, I hope, enable the 
reader to realize the conditions under which we travelled, 
and the natural features which preserve the region un- 
touched by outside influence ; and, also, to emphasize the 
causes of the peculiar position this region holds in re- 
lation to its ethnology, flora, and fauna. From this it 
will be noted, that the basin of the Upper Yenisei holds 
a very large area of land untapped by ways of communi- 
cation, and consequently remaining unexplored. Broadly 
speaking, the regions lying along the main rivers are 
best known, for these grant ease of transport. The drier 


steppe-region is also better known than the densely 
forested ranges. No part of the basin has been sys- 
tematically mapped, and the compilation of the map 
accompanying this volume has been of exceptional 

For the would-be explorer much untouched ground 
remains. In the far north-eastern corner, to the east 
of our route, at the head-waters of the Chapsa and 
Chebash, is a very large area of "new" country. The 
head-waters of the Bei-Kem and Khua-Kem would be 
well worth a visit, and the whole region lying between 
those rivers would repay examination. From our ex- 
periences in the Chedan Valley of the Tannu-ola we 
are at liberty to say that the whole of the north side of 
that range is unmapped. The Kemchik Valley north of 
the main river is fairly well known, but the ranges sur- 
rounding the valley are not depicted on the maps with 
that degree of certainty which results from actual sur- 
veys, but rather from rough sketches and much guess- 



I shall now resume our narrative at the point where I 
broke it off by introducing the account of the physical 
features of the basin, as suggested by the view from the 
summit of the Syansk. On June 15th we were heading 
southwards, towards the heart of the basin, and as we 
left the spacious, untrammelled views which were granted 
to us from the highlands, and plunged once more into 
the obstructing forest, we felt ourselves bitten by a still 
keener desire for further knowledge. Where did those 
rivers have their sources ? What was that jagged mass 
of towering peaks which rose out of the jungle far to 
the east ? Where lurked those silent, shy forest-lovers, 
the reindeer-keeping Uriankhai, whose haunts we were 
seeking ? These were the questions which presented 
themselves to us and bewildered us by the amount of 
work their answering entailed, by the physical difficulties 
in our way, and by the shortness of our allotted time. 

Our first concern, after crossing the Syansk Moun- 
tains, was to make a depot of our belongings on the banks 
of the Sisti-Kem, a small tributary of the Bei-Kem, on 
whose head-waters we chanced to find ourselves. We 
soon found that the difficulties of travel and transport 
in the basin were exceedingly great, and that it would be 

a hopeless undertaking to move with a heavy caravan 



through the forests. Lightly equipped parties must 
make lateral journeys, whilst the heavy caravan must 
be kept to the water-ways, and to the main route. Since 
we were now on the head-waters of the rivers, and our 
main direction was down-stream, we were enabled to 
use the river-transport to great advantage. 

We therefore halted for a few days at the huts of a 
Russian pioneer on the Upper Sisti-Kem, and despatched 
our men into the forest along the river-banks to fell 
the dry and dead timber suitable for raft-building. The 
existence of considerable areas of dead forest was a 
feature of the basin, and in large measure this appeared 
to be due to human agency. The native Uriankhai 
owned to the intentional burning of the forest, so as to 
cause open patches in it, which would make the hunting 
of certain game less arduous. The fires, as a rule, killed, 
but did not burn down, the large trees, and only served to 
clear the forests of the smaller vegetation and young 
pines. Over these areas there quickly grew up a dense 
jungle of small scrub and thickets ; the pines never 
again won the ground which they had lost, but were 
supplanted by deciduous trees. The dead timber, thus 
left standing, after a few years of seasoning gave us the 
most excellent material for raft-building. 

The men were occupied for three days in felling the 
timber, and in building a raft capable of holding all our 
kit and nine of our men, and this they accomplished 
in the most workmanlike manner with the aid only of 
axes. There was neither nail nor bolt in the whole struc- 
ture, which was fastened together by wooden pegs and 
ropes of twisted hazel. For ease in steering, and with 
a view to shooting the rapids of the Bei-Kem, the raft 
was not constructed on too large a scale ; and two long 


sweeps, in front and behind, gave us more or less com- 
plete control of the steering. She was composed of 
seventeen pine trunks, and measured 50 ft. in length, 
20 ft. in width at the stern, tapering to 12 ft. at the 
bows. On this we transported all our belongings for a 
day's journey down the Upper Sisti-Kem. 

Then, from a passing trader, we obtained some news of 
the region to the north-east ; he told us of the valley 
of the Chapsa, left affluent of the Sisti-Kem, and of its 
head-waters under high snow-peaks ; he also told us of 
the whereabouts of an encampment of Uriankhai, who 
belonged to the true forest-dwelling, reindeer-keeping 
section of the tribe. Consequently, at- the mouth of the 
Chapsa we roped up the raft to the bank and arranged 
for an exploration of the Chapsa and the regions beyond. 

The plans for our movements entailed considerable 
forethought and arrangement. There had to be three 
distinct parties moving independently. The horses had 
to go unladen through the forest along the river-bank, 
the raft and the main party to go down-stream to the 
mouth of the Sisti-Kem and to await on the banks of 
the Ulu-Kem the arrival of the third party, who, with 
light kit and a few good horses, made the journey of dis- 
covery into the unknown north-east. All these parties 
needed supplying with provisions, and with instructions 
in case of eventualities. 

At the mouth of the Chapsa we found an ideal camp- 
ing-ground, where a lawn of grass under fine larches 
lay alongside the clear, swiftly flowing stream. Here we 
stopped and organized our campaign. The raft was 
despatched down-stream with all the kit we did not 
actually need; the spare horses went along the river- 
bank to the place agreed upon, namely, at the point 


where the Sisti-Kem enters the Bei-Kem, and with a 
few lightly laden pack-horses, three men, and enough 
food for twenty or twenty-five days, Miller, Price, and I 
set out, and headed up the valley towards the north. 
Our position at this point, as will be seen by the map, 
was in the north-eastern part of the basin, and, as we were 
travelling to the north and north-east, we had a great 
area of unknown country ahead of us. If the reader 
were to study the maps made at an earlier date to those 
published in this volume, he would note the boldly marked 
highlands, and the apparently well-mapped river-courses ; 
but all these are imaginary. We did but little to 
elucidate the problem ; a vast area remains for a future 

We regarded this lateral journey as an essential one, 
in order to touch again, and if possible to cross, the 
Syansk Range at a point hitherto absolutely unknown, 
and also to find the reindeer-Uriankhai at home in 
their native forests. We intended to travel north, and 
to map the Chapsa River up to its source, thence 
we planned to turn eastwards, and to strike the next 
lateral valley — the Shive, or the Ugut — which valleys 
are such a prominent feature of the Russian maps. We 
were surprised, however, to find that these great water- 
ways only existed on the maps, and that we quickly 
reached valley number three (the Kamsara) without 
finding number one and number two in the course of our 
journey ! 

Passing up the Chapsa Valley at walking-pace, 
measuring our distances by time and pedometer, and 
marching with prismatic compass continually in use, we 
surveyed the country as far as was possible under the 
trying circumstances. The region was less densely 


forested than any we had hitherto seen. We were now 
within the larch-forest zone, having entered it at a point 
immediately south of the Ainar River, a left affluent of 
the Sisti-Kem, some seven miles to the north of the mouth 
of the Chapsa. With the appearance of the larch, we 
found a much drier and consequently a much more open 
type of country. 

On the second day after leaving the Sisti-Kem we 
first came across traces of the Uriankhai ; indeed, on the 
banks of that river our interest had already been aroused 
by the " skeletons " of their tepees and the rows of neat 
wooden pegs in the ground, to which the herdsmen were 
in the habit of tying their young reindeer. We were 
working our way slowly up the valley, mapping as we 
went, when the caravan was suddenly brought to a stand- 
still by a rude barricade which had been thrown across 
a narrow rift of the valley, leaving little room to pass 
along the bank between the river and the hills on either 
side. The presence of man's handiwork in the solitary 
and apparently uninhabited forest increased our enthu- 
siasm, and we eagerly pressed forward expecting, at 
any minute, to accost some unsuspecting reindeer-herds- 

Our actual introduction to the Uriankhai was, how- 
ever, a very amusing incident in our journey, although 
disastrous results might easily have followed. For the 
sake of companionship on a long journey, I had, whilst 
in Siberia, bought a dog, which, owing to his squirrel- 
hunting capacities, bore the Russian name of " Belka." 
Belka was pure white, of a breed highly prized in Siberia 
by the fur-hunters, and much in use on the post-roads 
as watch-dogs for the government mail-carts. On this 
journey he had full scope for his hunting powers, and 


he proved invaluable to me as a collector of small animals. 
He caught rats and mice all the way from the Yenisei 
to Chinese Turkestan, the skins of which now adorn our 
National Collection in the British Museum, and there 
was no species of big game after which he did not have 
a hunt. 

On this occasion, as usual, Belka was ranging ahead 
of the caravan. He had appeared uneasy ever since 
we had left the raft ; but I did not realize that it was a 
new strange beast that he had scented, and that for days 
he had been keenly moving up wind on the trail of the 
reindeer. The scent drew stronger, and suddenly there 
sprang up right in front of him a pure white reindeer. 
The result was electrical ; off went the reindeer, and off 
went my dog, and a mounted Uriankhai, who appeared 
from the forest, followed in hot pursuit. Luckily the 
reindeer managed to out-pace his pursuer at the start, 
and, before any harm could be done, the dog was pulled 
off the trail, and we eventually made friends with the 
herdsman, who was as much astonished as we were. By 
signs we urged him to take us to his home, and, leading 
us up a side-valley called Ala-su, he soon brought us to a 
pleasant meadow-land between forested hills, where, on 
a sunlit sward, close under the shadow of the forest, 
clustered the peaked tepees or wigwams of an encamp- * 
ment of Uriankhai. We rode up the valley, wending 
our way amongst groups of reindeer, startling by our 
sudden and strange appearance many a young Uriankhai 
herdsman, and eventually arrived at the encampment. 

It was strange to come suddenly upon these quaint 
and interesting people, living their retiring, self-centred 
lives away in the depths of this remote part of the world. 
It must be noted that the Uriankhai are a peculiar 


people, restricted in their range to a remote basin, which 
is so difficult of access, and so cut off from the world, 
that their very affinity with other races is both vague 
and uncertain. The Upper Yenisei basin they claim 
as their own, but beyond its border-walls they cannot 
pass. In no other country can we come in contact with 
the true wild Uriankhai — the Soiots of Russian literature, 
who call themselves " Tubas." 

We pitched camp, and were ably assisted by every 
man, woman, and child who could lay a hand on any of 
our belongings. We saw no sign of the exclusiveness 
and shyness which is generally attributed to them ; on 
the contrary, falling in with them as we did, appearing 
from the forest, suddenly, without intention and without 
any ostensible cause, they welcomed us as curious and 
interesting visitors, who were content apparently to 
give them presents without asking anything in return, 
and who spent most of their time holding up " magic- 
boxes " or looking at the sun, which was their way of 
expressing our zeal in taking photographs and making 

Such a sight was well worth coming so long a way 
to see, and it will remain vividly impressed on my mind. 
In the evening the slanting rays of the sun caught 
the rich sepia and white of the birch-bark coverings 
to the tepees, and showed them up against the dark 
forest behind, the curling smoke of the " wigwams " 
rose in blue films, and the reindeer trooped homewards 
for the night, herded by small boys and old women ; 
then the silent night — broken only by the grunt of the 
herds — settled down upon the quiet valley in this far- 
removed and remote corner of the world, and hid from 
view the quaint encampment. On these occasions one 




experiences intense delight and great satisfaction in 
having again found conditions of life, and a strip of 
country, which has in no way been spoilt by the hurrying 
march of civilization, but which possesses intact its 
old-world character. 

We spent several days at this encampment, making 
the best use of our opportunities, for the true reindeer- 
keepers are but a very small proportion of the whole 
tribe of Uriankhai, and the most difficult with whom to 
get in touch. They are, moreover, of all the Uriankhai, 
the least influenced by outside elements, and in con- 
sequence have kept their peculiarities as regards type, 
language, religion, and modes of life in a greater and 
closer degree than any of the others. These people 
belonged to the Toji clan, one of the five sections of the 
Uriankhai of the Upper Yenisei basin. The purest and 
most typical of the original Uriankhai are the clan of 
reindeer-keepers — to which division these people of Ala-su 
belonged. From the fact that only a small portion of 
the Toji clan, and of one other tribe — the Mardi — are 
reindeer-keepers .it will be seen that those dependent 
upon reindeer, and in consequence the more interesting 
of the tribes, are in actual number a very small portion 
of the whole, and are in distribution the most limited 
and the most isolated. 

The encampment was composed of twenty-seven 
tepees, pitched in groups in a very luxuriant meadow- 
land, at an altitude of about 3,500 ft. above sea-level. 
Here we had the Uriankhai in their summer haunts, 
carrying on an easy existence and depending solely for 
their subsistence on the produce of their herds of reindeer 
and on their success in the chase. The vegetation was so 
rich that the people, although accounted nomadic, were 


very little so, the necessity for migration being thus 
reduced to a minimum. The reindeer-keepers did not 
move their encampment out of this valley all the summer, 
their nomadism consisting of two great moves during 
the year — in spring and autumn — when they made their 
shifts to and from their winter quarters. 

Perhaps the most important impression left on us 
was the peculiar isolation the encampment enjoyed. 
We traversed miles of country in this part of the basin, 
yet these were the only people we came across. Their 
nearest neighbours were those who lived in small groups 
of tents at the mouth of the Kamsara, nearly fifty miles 
away. I call it important because this fact of a rich 
land, of wide extent, being inhabited so sparsely as is 
the Upper Yenisei basin, does call for investigation, and 
does point to a probable deterioration and degeneracy 
of the inhabitants. 

Of the ethnographical characteristics of the Urian- 
khai, we chiefly noted the quite phenomenal variety of 
type which members of the same encampment exhibited. 
No description will prove this variation so well as the 
photograph reproduced on page 204. Here, in a family 
group belonging to the Ala-su encampment, the facial 
features of each individual present the most marked 
differences, and seem to point to the mongrel condition 
into which this remnant of the Ugro-Samoyede family 
have sunk. The Mongol type is very pronounced in some 
cases, and in others it is remarkable by its absence. When 
we consider that these people are the descendants of an 
intermixture of the aboriginal inhabitants of the Yenisei 
and the old Turki or Uigur nation, influenced by and 
infused with a strong Mongol element, this variation 
is not to be wondered at. We could, however, dis- 


tinguish the reindeer-keepers from other sections of the 
Uriankhai by their less Mongolized appearance. 

Nothing interested us so much as the peculiar con- 
ditions under which these people lived. Never have we 
seen a tribe whose life-history was so completely fashioned 
by their environment. From time immemorial a race 
of hunters, possessing the inherent traits of a wandering 
people dependent solely upon nature, they exist as a 
type most fitted to survive under the peculiar physical 
conditions in which they live. In such a region the 
only domesticated animal which could be of service to 
man is the reindeer, and it is in this isolated locality, 
at the extreme southern limit of its range, that we 
found the reindeer living both in a wild and in a domesti- 
cated state, but under conditions which seem to us to point 
to its slow but certain extinction in the course of time. 

The Uriankhai, of the reindeer section (we may well 
call them thus, for the Siberian races specify amongst 
themselves the different tribes, according to whether 
they use dogs, reindeer, or horses), were dependent upon 
their reindeer herds for their very existence, only two 
other interests entering into their lives, namely, those of 
birch-bark and wild game. With these three means of 
subsistence their lives were complete, and when we 
dived into their smoke-blackened tepees and noticed 
their clothes and household belongings, we realized how 
complete was their dependence upon nature. All the 
tepees were covered with sheets of birch-bark, sewn 
together into a patchwork, and supported by poles of 
spruce. The interiors were remarkably empty except 
for household utensils of birch-bark and reindeer skin, 
hunting and trapping apparatus, and heavy winter- 
clothing in the shape of reindeer-skin coats and reindeer- 


skin rugs. We occasionally saw a Russian kettle or a 
cooking-pot, but nowhere in Central Asia have we seen 
so little outside influence as we did here. 

On the reindeer centred the chief interest of their 
lives. In and out of this encampment wandered as 
many as six hundred of these strange animals. Of their 
history and peculiarities we shall have more to say in 
another chapter ; here I only wish to point out the com- 
plete dependence of the Uriankhai on the reindeer. The 
reindeer supply him with food, clothes, and transport. 
The animals easily endure the winter months without risk 
of injury, and the heat of summer is compensated for by 
the higher altitude to which they are driven during the 
hot months. Yet we noticed that, in the valley of the 
Ala-su, in June, the reindeer herds were suffering from 
the heat. The herds spent the entire day under the 
shade of the forest, and at evening only did they troop 
out into the open meadows. The altitude at which the 
nomads camp in summer is not, of course, as high as the 
region where the reindeer would naturally be found, as 
shown by the haunts of the wild reindeer at the sources 
of the Chapsa River, which was situated at a height of 
from 5,000 to 6,000 ft. The open country above the 
forest-area, which is in its character the true reindeer- 
ground, runs up to a height of 7,000 ft. above sea-level, 
and strange it is that in those localities we never saw 
the domesticated herds. 

We used to watch the reindeer on hot days panting 
under the shade of the pines ; during cloudy and cool 
weather, however, they range over the meadows, feeding 
at will. They are, for the most part, unherded by the 
nomads, and at dusk the beasts return of their own 
accord, not only to the encampment, but to the actual 


tents of their rightful owners. At evening, too, the 
women deal out a small share of salt, which, at this 
season, they greatly desire. The natural history of the 
reindeer, the variety of their colouration — ranging from 
pure white to dark brown, and the details of their manage- 
ment, were studied by Miller, and every reference made 
in a future chapter on this subject is due to him. 

One of the chief objects of this lateral journey was 
to decide the question of the existence of the wild rein- 
deer, for, although several travellers, from Marco Polo 
onw r ards, have recorded the existence of the tribes of 
these regions who are in the habit of utilizing " stags " 
for riding purposes and thereby showing us their know- 
ledge of the domesticated reindeer, yet there has been 
no proof of the species ranging in a wild condition in 
this southern locality. Through exhaustive inquiries 
we got to know of the existence of wild reindeer in the 
ranges to the north of the Chapsa Valley. But we could 
not gain very detailed information. We asked whether 
the domesticated beasts ever wandered off and joined 
the wild ones, but to this the natives replied that their 
reindeer were afraid of the wild ones if they happened to 
come in contact, and that, when lost, they never mixed 

The Uriankhai also owned to the hunting of the wild 
variety, but never to catching them alive and domesti- 
cating them. We subsequently proved these assertions 
to be correct. The reindeer exist, in very small num- 
bers, in a wild state, on portions of the Syansk Range ; 
these are probably the remnant of the greater herds 
which once, long ago, formed the original stock from 
which were acquired the now domesticated race belong- 
ing to the Uriankhai. 


By gentle persuasion and by offers of presents, such 
as Russian gunpowder, tobacco, and knives, two hunters 
were engaged to accompany us up the Chapsa Valley 
to the haunts of the wild reindeer, it being our intention 
to carry out the exploration of that region, and to be, 
at the same time, in a position to determine other 
questions of natural history. 

Accordingly, we left the encampment and continued 
our survey up the main Chapsa Valley. Interesting geo- 
graphical features now occupied our attention, and the 
regions which opened out ahead of us were full of natural 
beauty and topographic phenomena. To the east rose a 
rock-range of most remarkable indentation, culminating 
in a high cone at its southern end, close to the valley 
of the Ala-su. We eventually mapped this range and 
climbed its highest point. The actual valley of the 
Chapsa now presented a dry, open aspect, covered with 
juniper-trees, mountain-birch, and small scrub. Higher 
up, at a point one mile above its junction with the Ala- 
su, the valley-bottom was filled with old moraines. For 
a considerable distance we travelled up and down over 
its hills and hollows, wherein lay many a little lake of 
turquoise blue which added charm to the scenery. This 
was the lowest altitude at which we found traces of 
ancient glaciers, the lowest end of these moraines being 
only 3,600 ft. above sea-level. 

A short lateral expedition was now decided upon. 
From our camp in the main valley at the junction of the 
streams which we named the Great and Little Chapsa, 
Miller made an excursion after reindeer, whilst Price and 
I climbed an isolated mountain-group called Tash-Kil. 
These peculiar rocky uplifts were so remarkable a fea- 
ture of the scenery, varying so much one from another,, 


that we ascended as many as we were able to approach 
in different portions of the basin. 

The ascent of the Tash-Kil group of the Chapsa 
Valley was one of the most tiresome climbs we had yet 
attempted. The slopes were composed of huge granite 
boulders, overgrown with moss and lichen, and the 
crevasses between the boulders were choked with dwarf 
rhododendron and alder ; we scrambled from boulder 
to boulder towards a summit consisting of small granite 
blocks. Four hours* climbing brought us to the top, 
which we found to be very different in character to the 
point we attained on the Syansk Range near the Algiak 
Pass. Here was a sharply serrated ridge, instead of a 
flat-topped table-mountain, and the jagged edge was 
cut into the most fantastic shapes by wind and weather. 
A dense haze hindered us in our survey-work, and hid 
all distant view, the exceptional value of which, in aid- 
ing us in our endeavour to unravel the problems of the 
topography of the land, can be scarcely exaggerated. 
Miller had hunted a large extent of country, but had 
found nothing of interest beyond the shed antlers of a 

At this point we discovered the independence and 
unreliability of our Uriankhai guides, who refused to 
accompany us any farther, in spite of offers of reward 
which ought to have tempted the avarice of any ordinary 
reindeer herdsman. We were forced, therefore, to 
plunge ahead without guides up to the sources of the 
Chapsa, where we spent many days amongst the upland- 
flats, bogs, and jungles, and in climbing the ranges, which 
formed the most intricate water-parting we had yet 

Interesting days we spent in strenuous endeavour to 


map as much of the region as possible. At daybreak 
we would start off in different directions, with gun or 
compass, and, partly on foot and partly on horseback, 
we would range over wide areas, rinding lakes, valleys, 
rivers, and ranges, entirely new to the pre-existing sketch- 
maps of the region. At dusk we would return to our 
tents in some flower-strewn meadow, where the evenings, 
often extending late into the night, were spent in writ- 
ing and plotting our route-surveys, as well as skinning 
specimens of birds or animals. This work was accom- 
panied by the persistent attention of a million mos- 
quitoes, against which we built up the usual circle of 
smoking fires without much result. We did, I think, in 
those days, the maximum amount of work with the 
minimum amount of comfort. 

Although at this season the country was entirely un- 
inhabited, yet the existence of narrow paths, obviously 
used by reindeer, showed that the Uriankhai were in the 
habit of coming up here at some season of the year, and 
the presence of tepee-poles showed us where they en- 
camped. Here, we eventually learnt, were the autumn 
camps of the Uriankhai, the men coming up to hunt 
and trap, after sending their households down to the 
lower portion of the basin. By way of food we found 
a few duck, capercailzie, and hazel-grouse ; but for the 
most part we became Russian in our choice of diet and 
lived almost entirely on tea and bread. 

The mapping of this region was an excessively diffi- 
cult task ; for, though the work was fascinating by its 
originality, it was tedious and overpowering by its 
magnitude. Here were thousands of square miles of 
absolutely unknown country laid out before us. We 
rode up new valleys and found new lakes ; ranges never 


before seen by appreciative human beings showed up 
through the mists, only to be hidden again from our 
hungry eyes, for bad weather or haze made the gaining 
of distant views very uncertain, and peaks once sighted 
were often never seen again. We had to search dili- 
gently amongst a maze of bogs and lakelets for the 
water-partings. Looking down into a valley, it was 
often impossible to tell whether it flowed towards China 
or Siberia, and a group of lakes in a marshy flat might 
quite possibly drain into entirely different river-systems. 
We climbed tediously through dense forests up on to a 
ridge, only to find all view obstructed by trees and our 
time and labour lost. Moreover, when horses were 
" going down " on bad ground, and packs coming off, 
and there was neither track nor view 7 , and we were days 
from our base, it was easy to forget to " take time " or 
put down our calculations. Thus it was with the 
greatest difficulty that we plotted the traverses and 
put together a map. 

But those days alone in the forest and 'on the hill- 
tops, with note-book, compass, sketch-book and camera, 
were at the same time full of delight and interest ; we 
could scarcely sleep at night with the longing to look 
into the next deep valley, to discover the way the 
lakes drained, and to gauge the altitudes of the high 
peaks. Our survey-work here was accomplished by 
prismatic compass, and the altitudes were fixed by 
hypsometer. The chief features of the country were not 
as difficult to put on paper as was the actual feat of 
moving over the country to see what it contained. 

The region in which we found ourselves on reaching 
the head-waters of the Chapsa was typical of the nature 
of the Syansk Range. Imperceptibly almost, we passed 


out of the Chapsa River system and encamped in a local- 
ity which (as it took us some time to discover) actually 
drained direct into Siberia by way of the Kandat or 
Kazir Valleys. We had passed over the Syansk divide 
without realizing that we had done so, and besides hav- 
ing done this we found that we also were within a short 
distance of the head-waters of the Chebash, one of the 
main affluents of the Kamsara River. The altitude of 
the actual divide between these different river-systems 
was a little below 5,000 ft. above sea-level ; and this 
point constituted the actual watershed of the Syansk 
Range between the Kandat, the Chebash, and the Chapsa 
Rivers. Nevertheless, we were still surrounded by the 
typical uplifts rising to 8,000 ft., which, standing up as 
landmarks, alone showed us the main direction of the 

From various peaks in the neighbourhood we looked 
with ambitious eyes towards the north-east, where great 
problems await the pioneer explorer ; but the magnitude 
of our task forbade further expeditions in this direction, 
and we could only note the leading features of the region. 
The character of the land which lay spread out before 
us was a vast expanse of level country covered with 
dense forest ; we saw no breaks in its sombre canopy, 
no stretches of open land or steppe. Occasional gleams 
of light told us of rivers running to swell the waters of 
the Kamsara, and of lakes which lay in the heart of the 
jungle, un visited and unfished except by some more 
ambitious, wandering Uriankhai in the course of a 
hunting expedition. 

For a long distance no ranges rose out of the taiga, 
and the impression of the region was one of appalling 
monotony. So far away, indeed, was the nearest moun- 


I IM i 

:pm '•»: 


tain in the east and north-east, that we came to the 
conclusion that this distant range which we saw must 
have been the main ridge of the Syansk. We noticed 
a fine rock-crested ridge running in a semicircle, and 
forming the north-eastern wall of the basin, but between 
this bend and where we were standing there appeared 
to be a big gap in the Syansk. We noticed no sign of 
a watershed, and were in doubt as to where the actual 
divide between the Chebash and the Kazir Rivers was 
situated. To the south of us lay the isolated Chapsa 
Range, and on the west rose the Kandat group which 
extended some way beyond the Siberian side of the 

With regard to the numerous lakes which we dis- 
covered in this locality, their existence seems to point 
to this north-eastern corner of the basin possessing 
the same lake-land characteristics as the far eastern 
region, at the sources of the Bei-Kem and Khua-Kem. 
If we could have continued our surveys farther towards 
the east we should probably have been able to prove 
that the whole area is dotted with lakes. The most 
notable sheet of water we chanced to find was a long, 
narrow lake situated at the northern end of the Chapsa 
Range, which, in consequence, we named Lake Chapsa. 
Its character as a crag-locked mere, with rocky, forested 
shores, and clear water full of fish, rendered Lake 
Chapsa one of the most pleasing additions to our know- 
ledge of this wild land. 

During our exploration of this region we had our 
only encounter with the wild reindeer. In spite of long, 
hard days over the Kandat Range, where they were sup- 
posed to exist, Miller had no luck beyond that of tracing 
their haunts by old horns. As is so often the case with 


the hunting of a scarce beast in a difficult country, the 
chances come to the person least looking out for them. 
Whilst returning from a long day's expedition on foot, 
I chanced one evening to sight a reindeer in a country 
where I least expected to find them. He was on a 
brilliant patch of green pasture amongst the pines, and 
at quite a low altitude, and not on the open top above 
the forest. As he slowly grazed and moved through 
the rich long grass in the slanting light, he looked almost 
pure white against the green. I was unarmed and let 
him go undisturbed, but returned the next morning at 
daybreak with Miller, who, in spite of finding the reindeer 
in exactly the same locality, and in spite of a whole day's 
stalk, found the country so excessively difficult that he 
never got up to him. This was the only occasion on 
which we actually saw wild reindeer. 

Apparently, at this season, they live very low 
down, in the shade of the forest, where they feed on 
the rich herbage. The density of the forest protects 
them, and at the same time hinders the hunters ; con- 
sequently they still survive, though in small numbers. 
In winter the deep snow in the jungle drives them on to 
the bare hill-tops, where the wind-blown summits are 
clear enough of snow to allow them to feed. The range 
of the wild reindeer is inexactly known ; we should be 
inclined to put it down as very restricted and confined 
entirely to those portions of the Syansk Range which 
extend from the Upper Sisti-Kem eastwards, and thence 
southwards to the neighbourhood of Lake Kossogol. 
So far as we could ascertain, there was no record of their 
existence on the ranges in the interior of the basin, such 
as the mountains between the Bei-Kem and Khua-Kem, 
nor is there ground suitable for them in the Western 


Syansk ; and certainly reindeer would not find favourable 
haunts anywhere on the Tannu-ola ranges. 

By July 2nd we had finished our programme in the 
Upper Chapsa Valley, and had returned to the Uriankhai 
encampment by the Ala-su River. Before starting east- 
wards, however, we made an ascent of the highest point 
of the Chapsa Range — a rocky, cone-like summit, which 
stood up conspicuously to the north of us. Leaving the 
main camp pitched close to the Uriankhai encampment, 
in the Ala-su Valley, Price and I undertook the ascent 
of this peak, named Ulu-taiga — The Great Unknown — 
by the fearsome dwellers in the forests below. Miller 
remained at the base-camp, partly owing to sickness, 
and partly so as to be able to study the reindeer more 
carefully, and, if possible, to procure a specimen. 

As was our wont on these side-trips, we started off 
very lightly laden, taking all the baggage we needed on 
our riding-horses. Our outfit consisted on these occasions 
of nothing but a great-coat for covering at night, bread, 
meat, tea, and sugar for food ; as well as a prismatic 
compass, note-book, cameras, botanical tin and geo- 
logical hammer, boiling-point apparatus, and, as often 
as not, a shot-gun. 

Most austere and rigorous religious principles forbade 
any conscientious Uriankhai from accompanying us on 
these visits to the mountain -tops. We even found it diffi- 
cult to get answers to our questions as to the existence 
or absence of mountain-ranges and snow-summits. Such 
weird localities were beyond the scope of their imagina- 
tion. The genii of the storms and the elements lurked 
in those uncanny places where man had no need to go. 
Every summit of barren rock, which stood sentinel 
above the dark, sullen forest, was holy ground, the haunt 


of spirits, the abode of the gods. These spirits they 
alike venerate and avoid. Every hill-top throughout 
this part of Asia rejoices in the title of either "bogdo," 
i.e. holy ; or " taiga," i.e. the wild, the unknown, the 
incomprehensible ; or " Khan/' i.e. King or chief. 
Every prominent feature is associated with some myth, 
every mountain is a monarch, every lake and river a 
deity. Thus it was that we were always self-dependent 
on these mountain journeys, and on our own initiative 
we had to steer as straight a course as possible towards 
the summits we wished to climb. 

On this occasion we assaulted the lower slopes of 
Ulu-taiga early in the morning, and, by undergoing the 
fatigue of a thirteen-hour day, succeeded in reaching its 
summit. For the first four miles a thick cedar-forest, of 
the usual impenetrable nature, hindered our progress, 
and necessitated leading our horses. Rocks, soft grounds, 
and fallen timber did their best to obstruct us, and the 
usual difficulty of obtaining a view caused us to follow 
a very circuitous route. At a higher altitude the dead 
timber formed one of the most troublesome obstacles 
that nature could successfully place, in order to impede 
the progress of man. The trees generally fall in a given 
direction, and in the fall they tear up their roots, which 
stand erect, thus forming a tangled net-work resembling 
the most impassable fence. It invariably happened 
that our line of march was in a diagonal direction to 
these barricades, so their interfering qualities can well 
be imagined. 

Emerging from the tree-zone at 5,400 ft., we found an 
alpine lake of exceptional beauty, situated in a rocky 
cirque ; here we left our Russian horseman in charge 
of our belongings, whilst Price and I, alone, continued 

u s 

< v 



the ascent on foot. With ruck-sacks on our backs, 
we climbed over rock-skrees to where the giant forest 
dwindled to mere dwarfed scrub-like bushes, — miniature 
pines bent and deformed by continual winds and incle- 
ment weather. Beyond the limit of tree-growth we had 
three hours' stiff climbing over granite boulders, devoid 
of growth, and did not actually reach the summit till 
past five in the evening. In consequence we had but 
little time for taking panoramic views, compass-bearings, 
and altitudes ; however, the lights at this late hour 
compensated us for all other shortcomings, the views 
we obtained from the summit of Ulu-taiga being beyond 
our hopes. 

The highest pinnacle of Ulu-taiga was a rocky cone, 
steep-sided on the south and west, and dropping off 
sheer on the east and north. As was the case in our 
previous experiences of the taigas, we were conscious 
again of the strange, uncanny atmosphere which pervades 
these lonely, rocky uplifts, these granite sentinels of the 
basin. We overlooked the entire basin of the Chebash, 
a featureless sea of forest. The immensity of the region 
enforced itself upon our minds ; the utter loneliness of 
its waiting lands appalled us — within that whole wide 
region there was probably not one single human being. 
For true wildness and savage grandeur the panorama 
could scarcely be surpassed. It is difficult to give an 
impression of the gloom of these huge woods, of the 
colossal masses of granite, with their fantastic contours, 
of the solitary heights that towered upward to where the 
winds blow chill, of the labyrinths below in which reigned 
a perpetual twilight, of the foaming torrents and sluggish 
rivers, all held in the grasp of the dark, deep forest. 

The onlooker over this vast scene experienced no 


relief from the oppressive silence which pervaded the 
surrounding atmosphere. There was no ibex or hill- 
game inhabiting the crags ; even the bird-life was scarce 
— the number of different species could be counted on 
the fingers — whilst marmots, whose cheery whistle gener- 
ally enlivens the silence of the snow-line on all Asiatic 
mountain-ranges, were here conspicuous by their absence. 
I cannot remember finding more than one species each 
of animal and bird-life on the summits above tree-line. 
On nearly every mountain-top we came across a pair of 
ptarmigan, and the granite skrees formed most suitable 
homes for innumerable little " picas," or " tailless 
hares," whose quaint habits and piping note were as great 
a joy to the others as they were to me, who was intent on 
collecting them. The shooting and retrieving of these 
miniature conies was an exasperating task. When shot 
they almost invariably managed to fall down the cre- 
vasses amongst the boulders, or to struggle into their 
holes before death seized them. Many a dead pica 
escaped the chance of immortalization by being added 
to the National Collection in London, owing to the stony 
rocks which formed his refuge, and under which his little 
body was irretrievably lost ! 

We slept beside a huge camp-fire that night, by the 
edge of the alpine-lake where we had left our belongings, 
and next morning returned by an easier route to the 
valley of Ala-su and our main encampment. We soon 
learnt by experience that, by following the crests of the 
forested ridges, we should find the pines less closely 
grown, and consequently the marching less tiresome. 

During our absence Miller had succeeded, after much 
bargaining, in purchasing a specimen of domestic reindeer. 
Although the reindeer herds were ample for the needs 


of the tribe, and although, having no outside demand, 
no marketable value was attached to them, yet the Urian- 
khai were exceedingly loth to part with even a single 
beast. The offer of a price which was far in excess of 
the value of the beast had no effect. When fifteen 
roubles (305.) was offered, there was no competition 
amongst the different tent-holders to realize a little 
money ; apparently it had no charm for them. All our 
trade-goods, too, were spread out in a tempting array, 
with the object of ensnaring the fancies of some passing 
Uriankhai herdsman ; but although knives, needles, 
soap, musical instruments, coloured beads, and auto- 
matic pipe-lighters amused them, yet they did not seem 
to think them worth a reindeer. Some vain old ladies 
were greatly taken with strips of red and yellow velvet, 
but they had nothing except reindeer milk to offer us in 
exchange, and this we accepted at our fixed price of three 
needles or three safety-pins per bowl. 

However, a fine specimen of the domesticated reindeer 
was eventually procured, done to death, and skinned by 
Miller. Its horns (in velvet, of course), adorned our 
packs on horses, oxen, and camels all the way to Eastern 
Turkestan, and were a proof to the tribes we encountered, 
en route, of the far-distant land from which we had come. 
The difficulty of procuring good types of reindeer-horns, 
was increased by the fact that the animals shed them 
whilst at the lower camping-grounds, and the largest 
specimens were always spoilt, for it is customary with 
the Uriankhai to saw off the tops of the longer horns, 
in order to facilitate the passage of the reindeer through 
the dense forest. 

On July 4th we started our caravan in an easterly 
direction with the object of passing into the basin of the 


Chebash and eventually into that of the Kamsara. 
Travelling, as usual, without guides, and with no indica- 
tion of the right direction except a broken reindeer-trail, 
which as often as not ended in swamp or was lost in the 
forest, we steered due east until we struck a large river 
whose course turned us towards the south-east and 
eventually due south. The region was without any re- 
markable physical features ; low hills or broad flat valleys 
made travelling monotonous, and surveying difficult. 

Some of these valleys, however, attracted our atten- 
tion as being veritable paradises for colonization. They 
were of a far more extensive and open nature than 
the average, and our caravan wandered through rich 
grass-lands, dotted with pine and larch groves, and 
through mile after mile of rich pasture-land, unoccupied 
and ungrazed, yet presenting the most inviting aspect. 
We noticed the unique opportunities such a land afforded 
for agricultural and pastoral effort, and wondered at the 
lack of inhabitants. The whole country appeared to be 
awaiting the coming of a greater population of a more 
virile and more progressive people, who would utilize 
and develop its great wealth. Mention will be made in a 
subsequent chapter of the progress of Russian emigration 
into this region, of the reasons for its stagnation up to the 
present, and for its probable revival in the near future. 
The fact of the Uriankhai being a " small people " in a 
land of great possibilities and without serious drawbacks, 
shows that they are without recuperative powers, and 
are, without doubt, well on the downward path. 

Although the greater portion of the country we 
traversed between the Ala-su and the mouth of the Kam- 
sara was of this excellent type, yet we passed through 
a considerable area of fen-country. On the watershed 


between these two river-systems, for instance, we fell foul 
of bogs, which hindered us and lost us one of our horses ; 
indeed, it is a wonder that any baggage-horse escaped, for 
the soft ground, intermixed with rocks and straggling 
roots of the forest-trees, gave many occasions for 
breaking limbs. 

The advanced season of the year had produced a tor- 
ment of mosquitoes and horse-flies, and, as we floundered 
through these marshes, we traversed the worst locality 
at the worst season of the year from the point of view of 
flies. During the whole day life was made hideous. As 
the horses brushed their way through the undergrowth 
the mosquitoes and flies rose up in swarms and settled 
on them and on us. The higher scrub would then brush 
the horses free from mosquitoes, and leave red smears 
where the repleted insects had been killed. The dis- 
turbing of the undergrowth caused the air to be filled 
with a real horror of many insects, which drove the 
horses mad. Giant green horse-flies and small black 
flies tormented the animals during the whole trek, and 
did their best to annihilate us. The line of the caravan 
could easily be distinguished by the cloud of insects 
which hung in the air above it, and it was with difficulty 
that we succeeded in keeping our eyes open. Never, 
even during an eighteen months' journey across tropical 
Africa, did I find it necessary to wear gloves and a veil 
in the day-time as I did here. But even these precautions 
were of little avail against the insects. At night we 
managed, by use of nets and a circle of smoky fire, to 
get some sleep ; but work, such as writing or plotting 
maps, was quite out of the question. 

On the fourth day after leaving the Ala-su, we struck 
a big river, which we guessed to be the Chebash, and, 


following it down for some six or seven miles, we found 
that it joined with another fine stream which entered 
from the north, and which we knew to be the Kamsara. 
A great river, a wide valley bordered by old river-ter- 
races of great height, and a mixture of pasture-land 
and rolling hills covered with open forest, composed 
surroundings of a stirring and invigorating character, 
most pleasing to us after the turmoil of the taiga and 
the rough mountain-tops. We emerged on to the banks 
of a great water-way, which is to this region as the main 
thoroughfare is to a crowded city ; all life and interest 
concentrates on it, being, as it is, the principal line of 

On a flat beside the Kamsara, a few miles from its 
point of juncture with the Bei-Kem, we found a group 
of log-cabins — the homes of some adventurous Siberian 
colonists, — and, pitching our tents beside their crude but 
homely dwellings, we answered their many eager ques- 
tions as to who we were, and did our best to satisfy their 



On our subsequent journeys in the land of the Uriankhai 
and through the heart of the basin, where the ease of 
river-transport relieved us of the labour of forest-travel, 
and a more open country gave us greater freedom of 
movement, we gained many vivid impressions of which 
descriptions and word-pictures can only give inadequate 
expression. The Bei-Kem region, above Kamsara, brought 
us to a land of sunny meadows and shadowy forest, a land 
of " rolling grass and open timber " dotted with tranquil 
lakes, coursed by dancing streamlets, and intersected 
by great swirling rivers. Here we had the bewitching 
variety of meadow and forest, of hill and plain. We 
could ride on horseback across downy grass-lands, and 
appreciate the utter freedom of the down-lands, without 
being impeded by the obstruction offered by forests 
or wearied by the monotony of a region which is all steppe. 
Here came not only a sense of movement, but the sense 
of space ; there were distant views which were keenly 
devoured after the curtailed views of the forests through 
which we had struggled, in order to reach this El Dorado. 
For contrast, we could wander through patches 
of fairy-like forest, which were not dense enough to 
hamper one or to exclude all view, but where the 
larches half obstructed the sunlight, and the ground was 
I — 10 H5 


chequered with trembling shade, and where, through 
breaks in the larch-groves, we gained vistas of a beauti- 
ful world of sun-lit prairies, and bright, colour-splashed 
lowlands carpeted with wild-flowers. Here, too, was a 
lakeland of a thousand lakelets, whose waters formed the 
sources of the Great Yenisei, and where great fish rose and 
the Great Northern Diver laughed ; the whole forming a 
very paradise of beauty through which we passed on 
horseback or in canoe. 

With the help of skilled Siberian boatmen, we were 
poled up-stream in our canoes at a greater speed than 
we could have accomplished the distance by land, and 
with far greater enjoyment to us. Jolly days we spent 
lying back in the dug-out canoes or on the raft, whilst 
drifting down the quiet reaches of the Bei-Kem, and 
strenuous days we experienced when rapids lay in our 
course and jeopardized our safety. Romantic camps, 
too, we made at night on some bar of shingle, twixt the 
dark, silent forest and the racing river. This was a freer 
country than we had hitherto experienced, and more 
easy to move in, but even here in the background we 
always had the view of distant ranges, whose forested 
flanks rose to barren and rugged summits which formed 
a rock-girdle around the basin, and gave us the impres- 
sion of being hemmed in, and cut off from the outside 

The " down-lands " and open pastures, where the 
main section of the Toji tribe of Uriankhai live, are 
situated on the banks of the Bei-Kem, to the south of 
Kamsara, and are broadly known as the Dora-Kern 
steppes. They are, in fact, the chief centre of Uriankhai 
life in the upper basin, and we were desirous of visiting 
them, for the existing physical conditions of this region 


are very different to those which surround the reindeer- 
keeping tribe whom we had accosted in the depths of the 
taiga. In order, therefore, to make the best use of the 
short time at our disposal, and to increase the range of 
our maps and the scope of our work, we divided forces. 
Miller and Price undertook to visit the Uriankhai of the 
Dora-Kern steppes farther up the Bei-Kem, whilst I 
determined to join the main caravan which was await- 
ing our arrival at the mouth of the Sisti-Kem, arrange 
its future course, and then visit the region between the 
Bei-Kem and the Khua-Kem, which was merely repre- 
sented on the maps by blank spaces, or by half -guessed 
rivers and mountains. 

The junction of the Kamsara with the Bei-Kem is 
a point of junction of two routes which lead out of the 
basin into the Baikal province of Siberia. We were 
never able, unfortunately, to get very exact information 
regarding these tracks. They have undoubtedly been 
used by Russian traders. M. Saflanoff, one of the 
oldest and most go-ahead colonists of this region, 
actually attempted to drive cattle from his ranches on 
the lower Bei-Kem over this route to the Siberian towns 
of Novi-Udinsk and Irkutsk, and he is said to have 
spent five months wandering in the mountains, instead 
of accomplishing the journey in two, as he expected. 
One of these routes leads to the head-waters of the Kuzu- 
Kem, right affluent of the Kamsara, and over the divide 
by a pass of 7,400 ft. The other route follows up the 
main Bei-Kem and over a pass of 6,500 ft. 

I mention these routes to draw attention to the lack 
of knowledge that exists of the far eastern end of the 
basin. For a hundred and twenty miles between these 
two passes the divide is quite unknown, and, so far as 


we could ascertain, there are no routes leading to it. 
In this region rise the many sources of the Bei-Kem, and 
a lake-dotted country makes the locality one of ex- 
ceptional beauty, interest, and indeed of economic 
value, for these lakes represent untold wealth in the 
way of fisheries. They are, in all cases, drained by 
the tributaries of the Bei-Kem, rivers, such as the 
Azaz and Ee, flowing through and connecting a line of 
perhaps a dozen lakes. The majority of these are quite 
small, but there are some, such as Toji Kul and Noyon 
Kul, which cover as much as thirty square miles. 

Miller and Price set out on July 8th in two light 
canoes, and journeyed up the main Bei-Kem for three 
days, as far as a " Kuria," or temple, situated a few 
miles from the left bank of the river in a highly favoured 
district well populated by Uriankhai. The Bei-Kem 
River here flows either between high sandstone cliffs, 
as in the neighbourhood of the junction of the Kamsara, 
or across the alluvial plain through which it has carved 
itself a bed between high, terraced banks. The valley 
on the right bank is wide and open, a rolling country of 
small hills and grassy flats, backed in some places by 
higher ground ; but the country on the left bank is 
shut in by a range of hills which runs parallel with and 
close to the river. Farther south this range gives way, 
and a fine open steppe-land grants opportunity for a 
large Uriankhai settlement. Here are the headquarters 
of the religious community of the upper basin, and the 
presence of a Kuria, or Buddhist temple, adds addi- 
tional interest and importance to the locality. Away 
on the east bank of the river, on the Dora-Kern prairies, 
is the residence of the "Noyon," or chief of the Toji 
clansmen, while all over this region, and especially around 





the Kuria and the dwelling of this chief, congregates the 
main section of the Toji tribe. 

The pastures and prairies of the Upper Bei-Kem 
support the largest community of Uriankhai that we 
encountered, for here alone did we find them living in 
considerable numbers and in close proximity to each 
other. On the flats beside the river were the tents of 
the Toji herdsmen, living in communities of from ten 
to thirty families. The Toji used, for the most part, 
the familiar birch-bark tepees, but the richer men 
possessed a winter abode in the form of a felt-covered 
yurt^ of the kind in use throughout Central Asia. In 
summer the tepees were occupied in preference to 
the felt-tents, but in winter the latter were used, and, 
on account of their greater warmth, must have been a 
boon to their owners ; there were not very many of 
them, however, for only a small percentage of the tribe 
were wealthy enough to possess two abodes. 

On the neighbouring hills grazed flocks of sheep, goats, 
and horses, and in the more luxuriant pastures beside 
the streams, cattle of a remarkably small breed grew 
fat during the short but pleasant summer. These 
natives of the upper Bei-Kem steppes have no cause to 
move their encampments very often during the year, 
and when they do migrate it is not very far, for the 
majority remain in the same valley during the whole 
twelve months. The Kuria, and the permanency of 
the chief's abode, go far to prove the more or less 
sedentary habits of these people, for a numerous 
population is always found in the neighbourhood of 
each of these buildings. In winter the resident popula- 
tion is augmented by the arrival of Uriankhai from the 
surrounding ranges, men who come either to trade or 


to settle their quarrels, as well as those who desire to 
make a yearly pilgrimage to the Kuria. Many tribes- 
men, too, come down with their families and winter 
in the lower valleys, so with the gathering together 
of the various clans, the upper Bei-Kem must at that 
season present a lively appearance. Little snow lies 
on the open land, and the herds can be fed without 

The Toji tribe is in easy communication with the 
south, tracks lead over to the wide valley of the Khua- 
Kem, and onwards across the Tannu-ola to the much- 
frequented Tess Valley, and to the pasturages and 
settlements which exist in fair numbers on the route to 
Uliassutai. Other, but less-known routes, lead direct 
across hill and dale to Urga. 

After disembarking from their canoes, Miller and 
Price visited the Kuria on the day of an interesting 
summer festival, being lucky enough to witness one of 
the most curious of religious ceremonies. The descrip- 
tion of this festival we will leave for the present, in 
order to introduce it into the chapter containing all 
our observations on the religious beliefs and customs 
of the Uriankhai. The Kuria was found to be a re- 
markable building, showing an unusual combination of 
the Chinese and Russian style of workmanship. It is 
said that the Kuria was built about ten years ago 
with the aid of Russian workmen ; this appeared to be 
proved by the presence of many log-built houses, for 
who else but the Russians could have acquired the art 
of trimming and joining pine-logs ? The temple itself 
boasted of Chinese characteristics in the architectural 
form of its roof, possessing, as it did, upturned eaves 
admirably carved to represent evil-looking monsters. 


Around were many log-huts, inhabited by the 
guardians of the temple, and also by the young Urian- 
khai novices who had consecrated their lives to the 
service of the temple. Each hut was isolated by a 
palisade of pine-logs ; thus their seclusion was complete. 
The presence of praying-wheels was inevitable, though 
the tow r er from which the lamas called the brethren 
to prayer brought to mind that well-known custom of 
followers of the faith of Islam. 

The interior of the Kuria contained the « usual 
miscellaneous collection of banners, painted silk-scrolls, 
and sacred musical instruments, as well as a library of 
a hundred and fifty religious books, and many idols. 
Three of the latter were of special interest, for they 
possessed features unlike any other Buddhist idol that 
we have seen in Asia, the aquiline noses and long hair 
giving them a cast of countenance not usually repre- 
sented in Buddhist pictures or sacred figures. It was 
with deep religious zeal that the small community of 
lamas practised the most exact ritual. An evening 
service, witnessed by my companions during their 
visit to the Kuria, commenced by two lamas ascend- 
ing the tower and calling their brethren by blowing 
mournful notes through large white shells. The lamas 
and the novices turned up in full force, each with a red 
shawl thrown across the shoulder, and, vigorously turn- 
ing the prayer-wheels on entering the temple, they took 
up their positions, sitting cross-legged on the divans. 
The head priest then rattled off the prayers at express 
speed, giving additional emphasis to certain passages 
by the ringing of a little brass bell. Simultaneously 
other enthusiasts incessantly turned prayer-wheels, and 
away in another building the noise of drums and cymbals 


greatly added to the din, and increased the impression 
of religious fervour. 

This experience of observing the outward expression 
of the Buddhist faith amongst a people who were origin- 
ally Shammanists, showed that Buddhism has the appear- 
ance of attracting the Uriankhai ; but it was obvious that 
they did not follow the religion with the zeal shown by 
the Mongols, and this rather brought the conviction 
that, at heart, the Uriankhai remain, as formerly, nature- 

Leaving the Kuria, Miller and Price crossed the 
Bei-Kem to the east, and visited two small settlements 
belonging to Russian emigrants. This remote part of 
the basin has attracted a few of the more daring traders 
and ranchers by reason of its containing a large popula- 
tion demanding trade-goods, as well as on account of 
the capacity the land possesses for the feeding of flocks 
and herds, and for the making of butter and cheese. 
These pioneers were eager to show hospitality to 
my companions, and, with their help, the journey was 
continued eastwards to the Lake of Toji Kul. All the 
country they traversed was steppe covered with short 
grass, and presenting possibilities of becoming a fine 
stock-raising district in the future. Patches of larch- 
forest, and, by the rivers, narrow margins of willow and 
birch, relieved the barren appearance of the landscape, 
while the presence of many old burial-mounds showed 
that the region had, in olden days, been a favourite one, 
and thickly inhabited. Toji Kul is situated in a rolling 
country, where the courses of ancient glaciers are easily 
seen by the existence of moraines ; indeed, from our 
observation on all the lakes that we chanced to see in 
the upper basin, we are inclined to believe that they 


owe their existence to the changing condition which 
must, of necessity, follow a previous greater glaciation. 

Toji Kul, with its wide expanse of clear, still water, 
its grassy banks and forested islands, its broken coast- 
line of quiet bays and bold promontories, backed by 
wooded hills, was an attractive scene of great and excep- 
tional beauty. Park-like country surrounded it, and 
although scattered tents of Uriankhai showed here and 
there along the lake -shore, this splendid land seemed, 
for the most part, to be lying fallow, and unutilized 
by man. 

Toji Kul is considered to be a sacred lake ; sacred 
" obos " are erected in prominent positions as guardians 
of the lake, and the natives have, up till now and on this 
account, been able to restrict Russian advances and retain 
the wealth of its fisheries for their own use. The natives 
frequent the neighbourhood of Toji Kul in the spring 
and autumn months, the latter season being the most 
favourable for fishing. By means of hooks and nets, 
the latter being beautifully made of horse-hair, they 
catch with ease all the fish they require for their own 
use and for the purpose of trade with the Russians. 
The natives make but poor use of the fisheries considering 
the incredible numbers of fish. Their methods are too 
crude and they themselves lack zeal and energy ; al- 
though living in a land of lakes and rivers, they have 
not even learnt to build boats or canoes, and are still 
dependent upon small rafts for water-transport. They 
have shown their wisdom, however, in proclaiming the 
holiness of Toji Kul, and in forbidding the Russians 
the use of its fisheries, lest its sacred waters should 
thereby be profaned. 

Away in the forested ranges to the east of the lake 


dwell small encampments of reindeer-keepers, about 
whom nothing seems to be known beyond the fact of their 
existence. In winter they are said to come down and 
encamp on the shores of the lake, and a few visit the 
Russian settlement near the Bei-Kem for trading purposes. 
This section of the Toji tribe who inhabit the lake 
region are called " Kul [or Nor] Souium," which means 
"Lake People/' "Kul" and "Nor" being respectively 
the Turki and Mongol for lake, and "souium" being a 
tribal division. The whole Toji tribe consists of four 

After visiting the Noyon of the Toji Kul, who 
dwelt in the centre of a large encampment of his fol- 
lowers, close to the Russian settlement of Safianoff, 
Miller and Price embarked in canoes and drifted down 
the river, reaching the main encampment at the mouth 
of the Sisti-Kem in the course of two days. 

Meanwhile, I carried out my plans with fair success. 
After leaving Kamsara I rode down the right bank of 
the Bei-Kem, through pleasant scenery, and in one short 
day's journey reached the mouth of the Sisti-Kem, 
where I was pleased by the sight of our main party 
snugly encamped on a grassy meadow beside the river. 
Tents were pitched, ready for my arrival, the raft lay 
tied up to the bank, and the horses looked well as a result 
of two weeks' grazing in the luxuriant grass ; in fact, our 
plans and arrangements had worked excellently, and all 
parties had carried out their special duties with care 
and precision. 

I rested at this camp a few days, and made arrange- 
ments for the despatching of men with the horses to 
Cha-Kul, where we should again need their services. 
We ourselves proposed to continue our journey by raft 


down the Bei-Kem and the Ulu-Kem as far as Cha-Kul, 
which is a small settlement of Chinese and Russians 
situated on the lower Ulu-Kem, some 180 miles distant. 
On July nth the twenty-four horses were sent off under 
the charge of three men, for whereas we, in the raft, 
expected to traverse the 180 miles in three or four days, 
the men and horses had to be allowed a full ten days to 
cover the rough track which runs along the bank of the 
river, parallel to the Syansk Range. The raft was re- 
constructed and strengthened in anticipation of rough 
usage on the Bei-Kem rapids, and all details of supplies 
received careful attention. 

Near our camp was another of those isolated ranches 
belonging to a Siberian settler, named Skobieff . It will 
be noticed that the settlements we so frequently came 
across in our wanderings form quite an economic feature 
of the basin. They exist, at intervals, all over this region, 
wherever there are suitable localities. In certain places 
considerable numbers of emigrants have settled together 
and formed regular colonies, but in others, such as here — 
at the mouth of the Sisti-Kem — and at Kamsara — the 
available land is not sufficient for more than a ranch or 
two. A river-frontage is essential to the existence of 
these outposts of civilization. The rivers are the life 
of the basin ; all colonists settle, if possible, alongside 
them, and use them as their high-roads and fishing- 
grounds. Indeed, there is nothing to tempt the new- 
comers to settle away from the rivers, the difficulties of 
transport alone forbidding colonization elsewhere. This 
is the reason for our finding the settlements only along 
the main rivers, and in most instances at the point of the 
juncture of the tributaries with the main streams. The 
position of these colonies, both politically and commer- 


daily, brings forward some interesting facts which will 
be discussed at length elsewhere. 

The Uriankhai population in this district was very 
small. A few families only frequented the neighbour- 
hood of the Siberian settlement, and some scattered 
encampments were said to exist on the south bank of the 
Bei-Kem. To ascertain the conditions under which the 
Uriankhai lived, in order to compare them with the rein- 
deer-keepers of the Toji tribe, I paid a visit to a chief 
whose tepee was pitched on the farther bank of the 
river. The Bei-Kem was here flowing very swiftly in 
several channels. To cross these we had to use canoes, 
whilst the horses were swum across by the Uriankhai 
accompanying me. Their method of doing this was at 
once original and successful, proving to me that these 
Uriankhai were naturally watermen of ability. My 
guide rode one horse into the current, driving the 
others before him, until his horse was out of its 
depth, then, slipping off its back into the water, but 
keeping hold of the long mane, he allowed himself to be 
thus towed across the flood, chanting a peculiar song as 
he went. 

After a two hours' ride from the south bank of the 
Bei-Kem, I arrived at a small encampment of four 
tepees. One of these tents belonged to a chief, and 
was especially large ; it measured thirty paces in cir- 
cumference, and was composed of over a hundred poles. 
The more settled habits of these people, who, unlike the 
others, herded only horses and cattle, was shown by the 
fact that this chief had built a small log-hut near his 
encampment, which he used as a store-house for his 
belongings. A group of horses, carefully protected by 
a circle of smoky fires from the voracious attacks of flies, 

■ ■ 

4 ' 3&^£^^ 





stood in a bunch under the shade of some neighbouring 
larch ; and cattle of a peculiar build — small, stumpy, 
and short-horned — grazed in the meadows. 

These people told me of tracks which led south- 
eastwards to the upper parts of the Bei-Kem, where, 
they said, large encampments of Uriankhai existed ; but 
they knew of no routes to the southwards towards the 
head-waters of the Tapsa, a valley of some importance on 
account of its placer gold-mines. On the ranges to the 
south they declared there were reindeer, both wild and 
domesticated ; but my interpreters were so unreliable, 
and the Uriankhai had so little conception of truth, that 
I feel obliged to doubt this assertion. From information 
given to us later, I should prefer, rather than believe this 
statement, to risk contradiction by saying that reindeer 
do not exist in the ranges between the Bei-Kem and 
Khua-Kem westwards of latitude 96 E. That game 
abounds in this district is evident from the profusion 
of skins adorning every Uriankhai's home. Roe-deer, 
musk-deer, and moose were the most numerous, and 
stood as a good proof of the skill of the hunters, who 
were dependent upon muzzle-loading rifles of an antique 
pattern, traps and pitfalls, not only for their supply of 
meat, but for skins as wearing-apparel, and for furs as a 
trading medium. 

Of the extensive area which lies between the Bei- 
Kem and Khua-Kem we have very little direct know- 
ledge. A rarely used route passes through its central 
portion from east to west, from the Upper Bei-Kem to 
the Tapsa Valley ; for the rest, the topography of this 
region remains unmapped. From rising ground near 
the mouth of the Sisti-Kem I caught a glimpse of the 
highlands, which rose in a jagged ridge some distance 


away from the south bank of the Bei-Kem ; so I at once 
set off in a canoe with three men and as little baggage 
as possible, driven by the keen desire to fill in as much 
of the map as I was able. 

During the next few days I experienced the joy 
of canoeing on the quiet reaches of the Bei-Kem amid 
most enchanting scenery. It was delightful, on a hot 
day, to drift down in mid-stream, and I was unable to 
resist drawing a contrast between this water-trip and 
the hot, tiring struggle that a land-journey would have 
entailed. We merely lay back in the canoe and enjoyed 
at a distance the sight of dark, forbidding palisades of 
pine-trees which lined the banks. Our canoes at one 
time lazily glided over some silent, sequestered side- 
channel, protected by islands from the main river; at 
another we raced through the threatening torrent where 
the waters roared over a rocky bottom ; we steered 
clear of giant log- jams piled high on submerged islands, 
and paddled past long, shining bars of sunny shingle, 
which invited us to rest. This idyllic travelling was 
varied by strenuous plunges into the tangle of forest 
and swamp, which extends between the river-bank and 
the foot-hills of the nameless ranges to the south. I 
managed to reach the ridge in two places, to survey a 
considerable stretch of mountain, and to add half a 
dozen rivers to the map. 

The point from which I made the first excursion to 
the southwards was some eighteen miles to the west of 
the Sisti-Kem. Here a pleasant valley of a comparatively 
open nature led up to the north, where the Karagatch 
River has its source in the Syansk, somewhere to the 
west of the " White Mountain/ ' which we climbed on 
first entering the basin. A group of four or five houses 


stood at the mouth of the river, on the banks of the Bei- 
Kem, and I noticed that the colonists had commenced 
to cultivate the soil. 

After crossing the Bei-Kem, I found the country to 
the south very flat and for the most part marshy. The 
larch and the birch were replaced by the cedar, and the 
ground was exceptionally wet and consequently covered 
with a growth of moss. I rode for six hours without 
touching hard, dry ground, and until the foot-hills were 
reached I found the travelling very tedious. There 
were no traces of habitation and no tracks to show that 
it was even visited by man ; yet the Uriankhai, I was 
told, do visit this region in winter, in order to hunt and 
trap, using reindeer for transport, horses finding no food 
in such a land. Game was evidently very abundant 
here. I repeatedly put up roe-deer, and saw traces 
of moose and wapiti. 

On reaching a ridge of 7,000 ft. altitude I found that 
I was on the outskirts of a rough mountainous region 
which extended east and west, and connected across 
the Bei-Kem River with the Sin-Taiga and Tashkil off- 
shoots of the main Syansk Range. The whole ridge 
was very steep and rocky, and although it attained an 
altitude of about 8,000 ft., I found very little snow 
lying upon it. Southwards there was a veritable laby- 
rinth of rugged ranges, and so broken were they, that 
I could not even make out where the course of the Bei- 
Kem cuts through the barrier which this uplift forms 
across its valley. 

My next ascent of this same range was made from 
a base some fifteen miles to the west, namely, from 
Sabie — another settlement of Siberians on the north 
bank of the Bei-Kem ; but my time was shortened 


by the sudden appearance of the rest of our party 
drifting down the river on the raft, and I had no 
opportunity of making more than a hasty inspection 
of the range to the south, from a summit of 7,000 ft. 
This short trip enabled me to locate the main valleys 
of several important rivers, whose mouths we had 
noticed, adding their contribution of water to the 
Bei-Kem, as we slid past them in our canoe. Large 
areas of dead forest, and a certain suggestion of dryness 
on the mountain-tops, coupled with the appearance of 
a little grass, suggested the beginning of a change in 
the flora. From this point of vantage I gained a wide 
view of the middle Bei-Kem, as well as of many of its 
right and left affluents. 

This bird's-eye view, which enabled me to look down 
over the forest, taught me an interesting fact about the 
distribution of forest and steppe. The south bank of 
the Bei-Kem was densely forested, and, so far as I could 
see, with no break in the afforestation. The north bank 
also was forested as a whole, but it was distinctly 
noticeable that at each point where a tributary entered 
the Bei-Kem there was to be seen a break in the forest- 
zone, and open meadow-land appeared in place of 
jungle. Long, narrow, wedge-shaped areas of open- 
land marked the position of the right affluents of the Bei- 
Kem and formed encouraging openings for colonization, 
of which, as already mentioned, the Siberians have not 
been slow to take advantage. These isolated patches of 
steppe are the first attempts of steppe-flora to overrun 
the forests. Steppe-conditions are gaining ground, and 
they first make their appearance beside the rivers, in 
valley-bottoms with the most southerly aspect. 

The village of Sabie is a typical example of a Siberian 

w « 

I— I ^ 

W 5 

w .a 


settlement in the Yenisei basin. It must be remarked, 
however, that Sabie is the only real village which exists 
in the upper basin ; that is to say, in the region above 
the Bei-Kem rapids, for no other settlement in the 
upper parts can boast of more than a few houses. It 
will be noticed, later on, that the mountain-barrier, where 
the Bei-Kem rapids are situated, forms a well-marked 
line of demarcation stretching across the basin. This 
line divides the little Siberian settlements of the Upper 
Bei-Kem from the larger colonies which have taken up 
land in the favourable zone lying in the transition-stage 
between dense forest and open steppe. The Sabie 
Valley is wide and open, its deforested area is corre- 
spondingly extensive, and the village at its mouth with 
frontage on the Bei-Kem is large in proportion to the 
land available for colonization. Karagatch, the last 
small settlement at which I halted, was the first locality 
where I had noticed attempts at cultivation, but at 
Sabie there was to be seen a considerable area of land 
broken for tillage. The attempts of the settlers in this 
direction are, however, not altogether successful. Rye 
succeeds fairly well, but wheat often fails, being more 
liable to damage by early frosts. 

Trade in fur, fish, and wapiti-horns furnish a better 
means of livelihood than agriculture, commerce in 
wapiti-horns being a remarkably remunerative business 
on account of the great value which the Chinese attach 
to them. Sabie is situated on the edge of a fine game- 
country ; in fact, wapiti come so close to the village that 
it is an easy and profitable undertaking to capture the 
younger animals alive. These the colonists keep in 
enclosures (as is the custom in all localities along the 
Russo-Chinese frontier where wapiti exist), and take a 
I— ii 


yearly tribute from the stags in the shape of their soft 
horns when in velvet. The nearness of the Chinese 
markets, to which these horns find their way, as well as 
the existence of many wild wapiti, has caused Sabie 
to be a flourishing settlement. The inhabitants told 
us that, during the winter, they employed the Urian- 
khai, owing to their exceptional skill in forest-lore, 
to catch the wapiti. The method they employed was 
to dig pitfalls and to attract the stags to the locality 
by distributing salt in the neighbourhood ; but the pit- 
falls they only found to be successful so long as the 
snow covered the ground. The mountains to the south 
and south-west were the best ground for wapiti, and we 
noticed their traces quite close to the village on the 
opposite bank of the Bei-Kem. The horns, when sawn 
off, are boiled in weak tea, as a preservative, and then 
sent to Cha-Kul on the Ulu-Kem, where they pass into 
the hands of Chinese merchants. 

The value of the soft antlers to the Chinese is well 
demonstrated by the price paid for them. At Cha-Kul 
they were sold in bulk at the rate of ten shillings for a 
pound's weight of horn, while at other places on the 
frontier we heard of hunters who got twenty or twenty- 
five pounds for a heavy pair of horns. As is generally 
known, the Chinese place great faith in the medicinal 
properties of the stags' horns, and, considering the extra- 
ordinary collections which fill the average chemist's 
shops in a Chinese town, there is no reason why stags' 
horns should not be included. If the Celestial puts his 
trust in bears' paws, vultures' feet, and the bones of pre- 
historic beasts, it is not surprising he finds comfort, or 
a tonic, in the fresh horn, which naturally contains the 
best blood of the period of rapid growth. But it is 


doubtful whether the drug, as sold at the Pekin pharma- 
cies, contains a tonic approaching in value the exorbitant 
price asked for it. 

Having now been brought into close contact with the 
Siberian element in this region, it will be advisable to 
record all we saw of the colonists who have taken up 
land in a region which is virtually under foreign rule, 
and whose existing status is, in consequence, somewhat 
unusual in its conditions. The actual position of the 
Russians in the basin will be best understood by a glance 
at their story from the time when, as colonists and 
traders, they first began to interest themselves in this 

The Upper Yenisei basin has always attracted the 
avarice of the Siberian. As long ago as i860 the first 
Russian pioneer of commerce (Vacelkoff, of Minnusinsk), 
was building depots in the Uriankhai country and open- 
ing up negotiations with the native chiefs. The native 
Uriankhai preferred to relinquish their patronage of the 
Chinese merchants, and to deal with the Russian new- 
comers, for they fully recognized the easy and just deal- 
ings of the latter and the advantage offered by the 
close markets of Siberia. These Russian traders were 
wise enough to generally employ Abakan Tartars as 
their " go-betweens," with whom the Uriankhai pre- 
ferred to deal rather than with the Mongols or Chinese. 
Thus the gradual passing of the trade out of the hands 
of the Chinese into the hands of Russians was assured 
when the first merchant from Siberia penetrated into the 

The traders did good business during the first years. 
In those days the most valuable furs were cheap, most 
things could be bought for tea, and tobacco purchased 


what tea failed to buy. Adrianoff, in his Travels in 
the Altai and Trans-Syansk, notes that, in i860, a packet 
of tobacco bought a sheep, and a cow only cost two 
packets ! Jealousy and race-hatred, however, caused 
hostility between the Chinese and the traders, and there 
were instances of Russian stores being burnt, and of 
general friction between the two parties. In 1869 a 
commission was formed by the Russian and Chinese 
authorities to investigate the affairs and to decide the 
rights of the new-comers, with the result that an indemnity 
was paid by the Chinese to the Russian traders who had 
suffered loss, and an understanding was arrived at which 
would effectually forbid Siberian colonists to establish 
themselves permanently in the basin. In those days 
the annual turn-over of trade was put at 10,000 

Later on, as more traders and colonists began to 
appear on the scene, fresh outbreaks against the Rus- 
sians occurred. The Chinese apparently permitted the 
Russians to carry on trade in the basin, but tried to for- 
bid the building of permanent settlements. The pro- 
hibition ruled that not more than two hundred men 
should congregate together in any one place, that the 
Russians should not settle except in those places where 
permanent Russian Consuls were established — such as 
Uliassutai and Kobdo in Northern Mongolia, — and that 
traders should not be permitted to make use of any form 
of dwelling other than tents or boats. This was a deter- 
mined attempt to stop effectually the actual colonization 
of the land by Russian settlers. But, from all accounts, 
the Russians continued to build ranches, factories, and 
trading-posts. The native Uriankhai neither permitted 
nor forbade, whilst the Chinese were in no position to 


expostulate. So the colonists increased in numbers, 
attracted, in spite of a certain fear as to the attitude of 
the Chinese, by the offer of new homes in a pregnant 
land, where fishing and grazing-rights were free to all 
comers, and there was an unlimited supply of grass and 

Observing the situation at the present time, we note 
that the Russians have won the day, and that the colonists 
have the advantage of the lands of the Uriankhai, with- 
out the disadvantage of a foreign Government. It is 
altogether a unique position, for the settlers in the 
basin actually possess the privileges of their own Russian 
rule. At Turan, where there is a small settlement of 
houses, we saw a fine log-built building which added 
dignity to the village. Here it was that the Natchalnik 
from Usinsk, the Siberian frontier town, came annually, 
in order to settle the differences between the colonists 
and to carry on his official duties, just as if he were within 
the limits of his own jurisdiction. The Government 
officials at Usinsk consist of this local governor, a secre- 
tary, a clerk, and a police-officer with a dozen men under 
him. The staff is provided with interpreters for the 
Uriankhai and Mongol languages. These officials hold 
under their control the entire population of Russian 
subjects, including Tartars, Siberians, and Buriats, who 
inhabit the basin or visit it for trade purposes. 

We were never able to get at the truth of the actual 
status of Russian officialdom in the Upper Yenisei basin, 
or to find out to what extent they hold the native Urian- 
khai in their power, or to what bounds their influence 
extends. M. Paul Chalon, who visited these regions in 
1904, gives us some information which I have not come 
across elsewhere, and I take the liberty of quoting him. 

ST r 3 

1 * 



" The Russian absorption/ ' he says, " has already 
commenced. By reason of the Uriankhai preferring to 
dwell in larger numbers every year on the Siberian slopes 
of the Syansk, the Russian administration has, little by 
little, wormed its way into their affairs, and spread its 
protection step by step to the southern slopes of the 
Syansk, to the banks of the Ulu-Kem, to the base of the 
Kemchik, and finally to the territory bounded on the 
south by the line of military posts, or the Mongol Karauls 
(which extend along the southern foot-hills of the Tannu- 
ola). Every year the Natchalnik of Usinsk comes to 
the village of Cha-Kul, the future Uriankhai capital, 
where he administers justice, checks the work of the 
' noyons ' (local chiefs), and listens to the complaints of 
the residents and the nomads. He is treated with much 
respect by all the chiefs who come to meet him at the 
villages where he stops. The present Natchalnik is a 
most competent man, and it may be said that he has 
already asserted the Russian protectorship over the 
whole country, to the great satisfaction of the natives. ,, 

How far this is correct I am not in a position to say, 
but it is certain that Russian protection would be wel- 
comed by the natives, and in view of recent advances 
made by Mongol princes to Russia, and in consideration 
of the preference for Russian rule over Chinese rule, it 
would be strange indeed if these regions do not, some day, 
fall under the protectorship of the Russian Empire. 
The Tannu-ola range forms a far more natural boundary 
between the two Empires than the Syansk Mountains, 
and is one which is far more easily delineated. 

During our conversation with the settlers, moreover, 
we were constantly questioned as to the existing state 
of affairs between Russia and China. These ranchers 


had a fear at the back of their minds of the possibility 
of trouble with the Chinese, and an undisguised know- 
ledge of the insecurity of their position, should hostilities 
break out. We were repeatedly asked when the war 
was going to begin ? Whether there were many Chinese 
in Mongolia ? Their questions pointed to the fact that 
the colonists recognized their isolation and their exile 
in a foreign land. If a Yellow Peril should arise and 
march this way, escape across the frontier would be easy 
and quick owing to the water-ways, for the Russian 
territory lies down-stream. We are inclined to believe 
that the entire population could evacuate the basin 
by water at a few days' notice, if necessity drove them 
to leave their homes. 

Gold is the chief attraction held out by the basin to 
the Siberian pioneer. The existence of it, practically 
all over the basin, has caused the springing up of certain 
out-of-the-w r ay mining-camps; but the extreme diffi- 
culties of transport and the isolation of the camps have 
been responsible for their failure. We came across 
several placer-mines on the Upper Amil and Upper 
Sisti-Kem near the Algiak Pass over the Syansk, but the 
majority of these were shut down. Mines also exist 
on the Upper Kamsara, on the Tapsa, and on Upper 
Sisti-Kem, but the only successful one of which we had 
information is that in the Upper Tapsa belonging to M. 
Safianoff , the success being due to his possessing sufficient 
capital. The other mines mentioned may be well worth 
working, but the owners have not money to work them 
on an adequate scale. The cheapness of labour, which 
allows the mines in the vicinity of Minnusinsk to work at 
a paying rate, does not here affect the situation, for 
labour and food have to be imported ; moreover, these 


mines are closed all the winter, and the workers shifted 
long distances to localities where living is considerably 

The mineral wealth of this part of Asia is a well- 
established fact ; it is possible that, at some later day, 
parts of the Syansk may become scenes of activity, 
leading ultimately to the establishment of thriving 
mining-camps. Iron and copper are being successfully 
worked on the Siberian side of the Syansk, these mines, 
in many cases, being merely the reopened old workings 
of the ancient Yeniseians. The remoteness of the mines 
of the upper basin from the Siberian centres alone hinders 
their successful working, but these are hindrances which 
may some day be overcome. Russian protectorship, 
augmented by sufficient capital, would work wonders 
in connexion with the commercial possibilities of the 
Upper Yenisei basin. 

In regard to the natural wealth of the basin, we must 
especially mention, as the most important, hides and 
wool besides furs, fish, and the feathers of water-birds. 
In the forests which clothe the Syansk Range live the 
most valuable sables in existence, and an incredible 
number of squirrels possessing excellent fur, as well as fox, 
lynx, otter, marten, ermine, glutton, wolf, bear, snow- 
leopard, and a few beavers. These, together with rein- 
deer, wapiti, and roe-deer skins, besides musk from the 
musk-deer, supply a fine opening for the keen hunters 
and trappers, and yield a good return at the markets of 
Minnusinsk. Fur-hunting supplies the staple means of 
livelihood for many Siberian colonists, as well as for the 
native Uriankhai. All the traders in the basin deal 
largely in furs, and barter all their goods with the Urian- 
khai during the summer months for the promise of fur 


payable during the winter. The returns are still large, 
but the profits have greatly diminished during the last 
few years. The diminution of the actual number of 
skins which pass into the traders' hands, as well as the 
great rise in prices, shows to what an extent this once 
lucrative business has fallen. The Siberians themselves 
hunt and trap during the winter months, but their main 
source of supply is from the natives, who pay in furs 
for the debts they have incurred with the local traders 
for tobacco and clothing. 

Where the Russians especially succeed is in the 
development of the fisheries, for here they deal with un- 
touched grounds, and their activity in this direction 
does not in any way interfere with the natives. The 
Uriankhai are no fishermen, and although there are 
certain lakes which they deem sacred, and which they 
strenuously guard against Russian desecration, yet the 
fishing of other rivers and lakes they leave as some- 
thing not worth troubling about. There being no 
reservation of the fisheries, the majority of Russian 
residents in the basin occupy themselves with this 
special pursuit at certain periods of the year. The 
number of the fishermen is considerably increased in the 
autumn by the arrival of Siberians from the villages of 
the Amil, who come over to fish in the upper reaches 
of the Bei-Kem. The industry must give good returns, 
for the expenses of the fishermen amount to almost 
nothing. The dug-out canoes they use cost about a 
pound or thirty shillings, the rafts on which they descend 
the river are constructed at no cost, and are eventually 
sold for fire-wood ; even the salt used in packing the 
fish is easily bought from the Uriankhai for a few packets 
of tobacco, or a little tea. 


It appears that the Uriankhai try to preserve the 
best fishing-grounds from Russian poachers, and these 
are generally so crowded with fish that even the natives 
can catch all they need without much trouble. I 
strongly suspect that Toji Kul is only considered 
sacred as an excuse for retaining its fisheries intact for 
Uriankhai use. The mention, by AdrianofT, of a Russian 
trader leasing a lake for fishing from a Uriankhai chief, 
shows that there is some restriction against the ravages 
of the newly arrived fishermen. In this instance, it is 
said, the Russian fished the lake when frozen over, and 
made a haul of a thousand pounds' weight of fish from 
the lake, and of another thousand pounds from the river 
flowing into it. 

There are nine or ten varieties of fish inhabiting the 
rivers and lakes of the upper basin ; of these, trout, 
salmon, sturgeon, perch, and tench are the most im- 
portant from the commercial point of view. It is said 
that the fish move up into the higher reaches of the 
rivers ' ; that is, they move from the Yenisei of the plains 
up into the Yenisei of the Uriankhai country, in Sep- 
tember and October. This particular season is, of course, 
also made most use of by the Siberians. With simplest 
tackle, consisting of a few nets, and by use of flimsy dug- 
out canoes, they make prodigious hauls. Living in the 
open in the forest, or constructing small log-huts to 

1 The fish run up the rivers as far as they can in the autumn, in order 
to spawn in the upper waters. They remain in the upper waters under 
the ice all winter, and come down (in bad condition) in the spring. 
The autumn is, therefore, the season for the Siberian fishermen. The 
wonderful series of lakes at the highest sources of the Bei-Kem tribu- 
taries form a unique spawning-ground for the salmon, and, as these lakes 
are drained and are not standing water, the other fish probably use them 
as a spawning-ground instead of the rivers, which may be frozen solid in 
the winter. 




shelter themselves, they spend a few weeks of hard 
work and strenuous living, then, salting their catches in 
barrels, and building their rafts, they float them down 
the quiet reaches of those pleasant water-ways, shoot the 
rapids of the Bei-Kem and Kemchik Bom, and eventually 
dispose of their fish at the Siberian market-towns. 

Having accomplished their task, these hardy fron- 
tiers-men return to their log-built villages for the cold 
weather, or outfit again for a winter's fur-hunt in the 
forests. In the latter case, they travel with a few light 
sleighs which they haul up the frozen rivers, and drag 
through the forests, into the inaccessible depths of a 
region where the sable still holds his own in spite of the 
persistent endeavour of man to exterminate him. The 
Upper Yenisei offers much attraction to the keen fisher- 
man, longing for a new and interesting region in which 
to travel and strange conditions under which to fish. 
We heard stories of a great fish which swims in the 
Toji Kul and other lakes ; the Russians call him 
" Taime," and claim that he runs to eighty pounds in 
weight and measures 6 ft. in length ! 

On the Russians depends the development of the 
commercial advantages of these regions, especially with 
regard to minerals. Of the latter we can mention iron, 
copper, and gold, asbestos, lime, rock-salt, and salt from 
the lake-beds. All awaits development, and all will 
act as a further incentive to the Siberians, who are ever 
ready, under the fatherly protection of their own 
Government, to take up new land and to try new ground, 
but are forced to hold back when the political state 
of the country is as uncertain and unsettled as it 
is at present. The trade is almost entirely in the 
hands of the Russians. The chief difficulty experienced 


by these traders is the supplying of articles of which 
the natives have the greatest need. Tobacco, tea, 
clothes, cooking-utensils, copper, red-leather, and gun- 
powder take the place of money, for which they find no 
use. The native, being lazy and without ambition, sits 
idle so long as he has sufficient for his needs, and does 
not bestir himself until necessity forces him again to work, 
hunt, or sell his stock. Besides this there is ample land 
awaiting the rancher ; there are unlimited grazing-grounds 
suitable for cattle, horses, and sheep, as well as a certain 
zone of country quite capable of producing crops. 

In the course of our journey down the Bei-Kem we 
spent a day at the ranch of the most notable pioneer 
of the basin, the one who has done more to open up 
these regions than any other man. Dotted all over the 
Russian map of the basin we see the name of Safianoff. 
The word is written across blanks, as if to fill in the 
empty spaces ; in reality, the name represents some 
tiny ranch or trading-station, called after its founder. 
Forty years ago this pioneer visited Uliassutai, recon- 
noitred the regions he traversed, and finally settled 
as a trader on the Ulu-Kem at Cha-Kul. Now he has 
built himself a house and laid out a fine ranch at the 
mouth of the Tapsa River on the Lower Bei-Kem, where 
he occupies himself with experimenting with different 
breeds of cattle, and with the qualities of various grain, 
plants, and trees best suited to the region. 

M. Safianoff was able to show us the first camels 
we met in the basin, for his ranch is situated in the 
zone where the forests give way to steppe, and the 
climate becomes drier ; he also had a surprise for us 
in the way of horse-flesh. With great pride his Tartar 
groom brought out a pure Arab and two Russian-bred 


stallions for our inspection. One of the latter had the 
great Galtee More for a sire, that Irish-bred " triple- 
crowned " winner who was sold to the Russian Govern- 
ment for twenty-one thousand guineas. With the help 
of these he was trying to improve the breed of the Mongol 
horse, a task well worth the trying, and one which might 
eventually have far-reaching results. We presume M. 
Safianoff had the aid of the Russian Government in this 
matter, and that they considered an unlimited supply 
of Mongol horses as being well worth such an improve- 
ment, taking into consideration the demands for such 
horses for military transport and for remounts. 

M. Safianoff entertained us in his comfortable house, 
and showed us round his newly laid out experimental 
gardens, where we saw growing in profusion potatoes, 
onions, cucumbers, and vegetable marrows. He suc- 
ceeded with wheat, oats, barley, and millet, was keen 
to try what could be done in the way of fruit-growing, 
and had started trials that year with different varieties 
of apples and melons. It should be noted, however, 
that all his efforts are dependent upon irrigation, the 
rainfall being too scanty during the summer months to 
be relied upon. It was indeed a pleasure to find so 
ambitious and energetic a pioneer in this very remote 
region. We believe that M. Safianoff is looked up to 
by all the colonists as the authority in the basin, and his 
name is honoured by all Uriankhai for fair and just 

This digression on the Russian inhabitants of the 
basin, on the scope of their work, and on the success 
of their endeavours to found permanent colonies, was 
suggested by our arrival at Sabie — the first settlement 
of any note which we came across in our journey down 


the Bci-Kem. We quitted Sabie on our raft on July 
1 8th, having received ample warnings from the inhabi- 
tants that below us lay rapids which might prove 
disastrous to our frail craft. We were told endless 
tales of broken rafts and drowned fishermen, which, 
however, in no way prevented our Kushabar boatmen 
from attempting to shoot the rapids ahead of us. 

Almost immediately after leaving the village the 
open country on either bank began to give place to 
steep hills, which hemmed in the river, and soon we were 
drifting down the narrowed channel between high per- 
pendicular precipices which dropped sheer into the water. 
The river here swept in great curves under the red- 
coloured cliffs, standing like walls on either hand, above 
which rose forested slopes leading up to crags towering 
5,000 ft. above us. Six men working at the " sweeps " 
managed to keep the raft off the rocks, until in the far 
distance the sullen roar told us of the close vicinity 
of the rapids. On rounding a corner we saw the 
river ahead of us broken by a white line of foam ; the 
raft was then roped up to the bank some few hundred 
yards above the first cascade, whilst we carefully ex- 
amined the rapids and counted the risks. 

We found the Bei-Kem rapids to consist of two falls 
about a quarter of a mile apart, the uppermost of which 
was the more dangerous. The river was here about 
eighty yards across, and shut in by steep hills. The 
danger presented by the rapids was that of the possi- 
bility of the raft breaking up on the rocks which reared 
themselves up out of the foam in the most threatening 
manner. The right bank of the river allowed no oppor- 
tunity for portage, the river cutting in under a rock-wall 
and the hill-side dropping sheer into the water. But 


the south bank had a narrow, boulder -strewn margin 
over which we eventually found ourselves struggling 
with the baggage, for we decided to unload the raft, 
transport the baggage to a point below the first rapid, 
and then send the raft down over the rapids with only 
a few men on board. The remainder of the day was 
spent in carrying the bales and boxes over the boulders, 
which were piled high along the bank of the river. We 
then hauled the raft by ropes up-stream so as to get a 
good " take-off/' and our head-man and two others shot 
the rapids without mishap, including a twelve-foot drop 
between the rocks. For a few seconds during this drop 
the raft was under water, and the men almost lost their 
hold, but the next moment the quiet reach between the 
two rapids brought them into safe water. 

After a restless night spent amongst the rocks, in 
too close proximity to the thunder of the waters, we 
strengthened the raft by the addition of two tree trunks 
and embarked once more with all our belongings. The 
lower rapid was passed with the entire party and all the 
baggage on board, and it was not until we were below 
it that we realized the risk we had run, and the fool- 
hardiness of our venture. The current was so strong 
that, even with four men at the sweeps, it was impossible 
to steer the raft into the main channel, and we had to let 
her go, trusting to the current to keep her off the rocks, 
on which we narrowly escaped being wrecked. 

The long, smooth reaches below the rapids took us 
on at a great pace, for the current was strong and deep, 
on account of the water here being hemmed into a narrow 
defile. Inspiring scenery lay around us : rugged cliffs 
bordered the river, and pine-trees clung romantically 
to the crags wherever they could find root-hold. Winding 


in great bends, the river passed through the labyrinth 
of ranges, and later in the day, after a twelve hours' 
journey, the hills were left behind, and we glided out on 
to the now sluggish current into a wide and open country, 
the central portion of the Upper Yenisei basin. 



The mountainous region through which the Bei-Kem 
River flows for thirty miles, between the points where the 
Sabie and Uiuk tributaries join the main river, is a country 
of complex formation and extreme ruggedness. This 
mountain-wall forms in itself a very important natural 
boundary-line, and divides the upper portion of the 
Yenisei basin from the lower, and thereby accounts for 
the complete isolation of the Upper Bei-Kem region. 
Above the barrier are beautiful reaches of rapid-flowing 
rivers, clear, deep back-waters and racing mid-streams, 
with their typical high-piled log-jams, spits of shingle, 
and palisaded banks of pine-trees. Above the Bei-Kem 
rapids are the homes of the Siberian fishermen, with 
their log-built villages, their canoes, and nets, as well as 
the isolated ranches of the adventurous pioneers. Below 
the barrier there extends a more barren land of slow- 
flowing rivers which sweep in majestic curves across 
the wide steppe-valleys, a land of deforested hills and 
dusty plains, a land of altered conditions now suffering, 
it seems, from the great and far-reaching blight of desicca- 
tion — a condition brought about by the slow-moving 
but certain increase of aridity in the interior of Asia. 

That part of the Upper Yenisei basin, which was 
truly Siberian in character, ended at the Bei-Kem rapids ; 
I— 12 w 


below the rapids the land approached Mongolia in climate 
and in general aspect ; a region which, as we came later 
on to learn, formed in reality a transition-stage between 
Siberia and Mongolia. For this reason a description 
of the central basin and the Kemchik is especially im- 
portant, as showing the life-zones of the region, and the 
lines of demarcation that separate them. 

It was only after passing the Bei-Kem rapids, where 
the river begins to free itself from the constraint of the 
mountains, that we first came to observe the novel condi- 
tions of the central basin. As we passed through the 
gorges the appearance of the mountains became gradu- 
ally drier and less covered with heavy vegetation. The 
pines became scarcer, until larch-forests alone remained 
on the hills ; later in the day, as we drifted slowly on the 
bosom of the now tranquil Bei-Kem, the hill-country 
dropped away, and we came in sight of the central part 
of the basin. Here we were astonished at seeing that 
the steppe-country, which had extended its influence 
over the valleys, was already laying siege to the hills. 

At a point just north of the junction of the Uiuk 
River with the Bei-Kem, we noticed that the hills were 
destitute of tree-growth on their southern flanks ; but 
on their northern faces the larch forest still held its own 
against the war of desiccation waged by the arid condi- 
tions creeping in from the south, and slowly but surely 
overcoming it. Along the river-margin the poplar, birch, 
and willow grew in scanty array, owing their very exist- 
ence to the proximity of the water-way. The southern 
foot-hills of the mountain-barrier presented that marked 
termination of forest and grass-lands which is so typical 
of Inner Asia. We saw phalanes of larches standing in 
lines along the crests of the hills, and extending down 


Borashay Pass. 



the northern slopes, but on no portion of the hill-sides 
facing south were trees able to exist. On the lower 
hills forest was entirely absent. 

With the change in flora came new types of fauna 
and new conditions of human life. We left behind us 
the reindeer, the beaver, the moose, the wapiti, the 
capercailzie, and the hazel-grouse ; these all were a part 
of the northern forests, and did not extend south of the 
Bei-Kem barrier. As we drifted into the neighbour- 
hood of the Ulu-Kem we saw the yurts, or felt-tents 
of the nomadic Uriankhai, and noticed that the owners 
themselves differed essentially from their kinsmen of the 
upper basin. These Uriankhai kept herds of sheep and 
goats, in place of the reindeer, cattle, and horses owned 
by the tribes of the upper basin, and the first sight of 
the camel greatly astonished some of our Russians. 

We looked southwards with unbroken view across 
rolling steppes to the faint, distant outline of the southern 
border-range — that of the Tannu-ola — beyond which 
lay the great expanse of immense Mongolia ; and we 
enjoyed the keener and dryer atmosphere of the open 
lands after the enervating humidity of the jungles. 

The change became complete when we had drifted 
on to the broad waters of the Ulu-Kem. Nothing here 
remained of the scenery to which we had become accus- 
tomed during our stay in the upper basin, but we were 
now by slow degrees learning the true character of the 
central basin. Once on the Ulu-Kem, we made fair pace 
down its single channel, and, covering eighty miles in 
twenty-five hours, we arrived at the settlement of Cha- 
Kul, where, finding a grassy flat beside the river, to the 
west of the village, we tied up the raft to the bank and 
pitched our tents. 


The existence of Cha-Kul is due to its exact position 
on the Ulu-Kem, this being the starting-point of all 
up-stream navigation, and also to its precise situation at 
the junction of the two main trade-routes which cross 
the basin and connect Siberia with Mongolia. Cha-Kul 
has little to recommend it beyond the fact of its important 
natural position, and its existence as the chief trade- 
centre of the basin ; no pleasant prospects or fertile lands 
making it attractive in other ways. Yet the neighbour- 
hood is gradually assuming the look of a permanently 
settled locality, tracts of land are being opened up, 
irrigated, and cultivated, and the nomadic Uriankhai 
are becoming partly sedentary. Cha-Kul has, in fact, 
all the appearance of becoming, in the future, a centre 
of some importance, the capital perhaps of the Urian- 
khai " reserve." 

A road is in construction which will join up Minnu- 
sinsk with Usinsk ; and if this route is prolonged as far 
as Cha-Kul it will have an immense effect upon the 
importance of this place, as it would mean a direct line 
of communication between the Yenisei province of 
Siberia and North-west Mongolia. This route would, 
there is every reason to believe, become a powerful rival 
to that of the Altai, which, at the present moment, 
absorbs all trade from Mongolia, and carries it to the 
towns on the Ob, such as Biisk and Barnaul. With the 
growing importance of Mongolia to Russia, this line of 
communication must, of necessity, be opened up sooner 
or later, for at present there is no real and adequate 
connexion between the two countries from the Altai 
to the religious centre of Urga, a distance of about nine 
hundred miles. 

The Cha-Kul settlement is situated on the south bank 


of the Ulu-Kem in a treeless steppe. The rather dirty 
and squalid houses of the mixed inhabitants gave an 
unsightly air to the town. The " compounds " of the 
Russian traders alone stood out as containing well-built 
and permanent dwellings of some pretension. Of these, 
there were only ten, the remainder being the log-built 
huts of small traders, such as half-bred Tartars, or 
Russianized Uriankhai, and the clean houses of a few 
Chinese shopkeepers. Cha-Kul showed a remarkable 
mixture of types. Men from odd corners at the back of 
Asia congregated here — Mongol, Buriat, Tartar, Musco- 
vite, Celestial, and half-wild Uriankhai. The Russians 
held the greater part of the trade, which consisted largely 
of cloth-stuffs, knives, tobacco, guns, household utensils, 
and cheap trinkets utilized as a means of exchange with 
the natives in return for wool, hides, and furs. 

The Chinese element was, however, not to be dis- 
counted, for it was noticeably on the increase, the Chinese 
being by far the most pushing tradesmen. At the 
Chinese shops only were we able to obtain small change 
for hundred-rouble notes, and the cleanliness of these 
shops in comparison with other stores was most marked. 
There were about forty Chinese in Cha-Kul, all of whom 
had come from Uliassutai, either as private traders or 
as agents of large firms from the big towns of China, 
who are in the habit of sending their agents to the most 
remote corners of the Empire. It was said that these 
Chinese had only started their business during the last 
five years ; if this was true it showed with what avidity 
and keenness the Celestials were pushing forward even in 
these far-off regions, and how greatly their influence was 
tending to increase. 

We found that Cha-Kul supplied us with food-stuffs, 


such as tea — which was imported at remarkably low 
prices by the Chinese — flour, sugar, salt, and meat ; eggs 
were scarce, and rice unprocurable. It was obviously 
necessary for us to live, in native fashion, on the products 
of the country. We had not seen a shop for two months 
until we arrived at Cha-Kul, and we had no reasonable 
hope of seeing another for the next two months. 
Luckily, we had now to employ native labour instead of 
that of our meat and bread eating Russians, for I do 
not know to what huge size our caravan would have 
grown, if we had been obliged to supply a staff of Russian 
followers with food. The natives, being accustomed to 
arranging their own food-supply and at the same time 
requiring very little of it, the food question gave us no 

At Cha-Kul we occupied ourselves with arrangements 
for the onward march, plotting surveys, and writing 
notes. We sold the raft to an enterprising Chinaman, 
who bought it either with a view to a journey to Minnu- 
sinsk, or to use as firewood. We paid off our Russian 
servants, who either rode, walked, or returned on rafts 
to their homes in Siberia; two of them, however, we 
thought it wise to retain, so as to obviate the difficulty 
of being entirely dependent upon the natives. This 
necessitated a halt of five days, which we spent in care- 
fully exploring the neighbourhood of Cha-Kul. 

Southwards, the plain bordering the Ulu-Kem runs 
in level reaches to the foot-hills of the Tannu-ola, some 
twelve miles away. These foot-hills climb in very 
gradual grades to the featureless, snow-patched ridge 
of the main Tannu-ola, the southern wall of the basin, 
and the watershed between the Arctic and the inland 
Mongolian drainage. No sign of forests appears on these 



ft . 

« 5 
W O 
Q w 

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mountain-flanks, the hills looking barren and dry, yet, 
as we came to discover later, green valleys and forested 
slopes were to be seen when once we reached the heart 
of the range. 

The environs of Cha-Kul presented some interesting 
studies as regards the economic conditions of the Urian- 
khai. Here we found instances of the wandering nomads 
becoming domesticated and even sedentary in their 
habits. Often we came across the strange and unusual 
sight of their felt tents being pitched in the ordinary 
way, with an annex consisting of log-built cattle-pens 
and various enclosures for the flocks. The most unmis- 
takable sign, however, of a settled life was the existence 
of a large extent of cultivated land lying to the south 
of the town, and stretching for some way up the valley 
of the Cha-Kul River. Millet seemed to be the most 
favoured crop, but wheat and rye were also grown. 
Kriloff, the botanist, who was here in 1892, mentions that 
barley is also sown. He also remarks that " if the 
water is sufficient, the land is well cultivated with millet, 
and if the water-supply fails owing to the drying up of 
the several branches of the Cha-Kul River, then the 
fields have a most desolate appearance.' ' 

This shows that the water-supply is uncertain in this 
locality, and this fact proves the remarkable difference 
between the rainfall of the northern border-range of the 
basin — the Syansk — and that of the southern wall — the 
Tannu-ola, where the Cha-Kul River has its source. The 
locality is most suitable for irrigation works. The Cha-Kul 
River, after leaving the hill-country, divides into four 
streams, and for ten miles meanders across a level plain 
before reaching the Ulu-Kem. Two of the streams never 
reach the main river, as the irrigation works rob them 


of their water-supply. This flat country, capable of 
irrigation, measures about five miles in length by ten 
miles broad, and it is evident that, if the natives had 
sufficient initiative, the whole of it could be cultivated. 
We noted large areas of land lying fallow, but whether 
this was of necessity, or merely on account of lack of 
effort, or of failure of the water-supply, we have not 
exact information enough to say. Beyond the limits of 
the irrigation canals, barren steppe — devoid of vegeta- 
tion — held sway, and the outlying spurs of the ranges 
were entirely destitute of grass, or growth, with the 
exception of small thorny scrub and varieties of steppe- 

We were here compelled to forgo water-transport, 
and to take to horses once more, our intention being to 
visit the Kemchik region in the western part of the 
basin before crossing the Tannu-ola Range into Mongolia. 
From a local chief we engaged men and animals to take 
us to the valley of the Chedan River, a southern affluent 
of the Kemchik, which, we were informed, was the resi- 
dence of the chief of the Kemchik tribes and the quarters 
of a considerable population of the Uriankhai. 

Leaving the Cha-Kul, we journeyed during an entire 
day over a barren and waterless steppe, a part of this 
trek leading along the great roadway described in a 
preceding chapter. During the later days (23rd to 29th) 
of July we experienced very hot weather ; the ther- 
mometer went up to 101 in the shade and the tempera- 
ture was intensified by the glare of the open country and 
the complete lack of shade. The great heat told both 
on us and on our caravan, none of us being accustomed 
to the open steppe, where the heat rising from the ground 
was almost as great as the direct rays of the sun ; 


during the first day's trek our Siberian horses became 
so exhausted that many of them completely gave out. 
By evening we had climbed up to over 3,000 ft., and, 
with thunderstorms to clear the air, we managed to get 
cool again. 

The waterless character of this region well illus- 
trated to us the dry climate this] portion of the basin 
enjoys, — as compared with the rest, a small stream we 
camped at being the only water-supply on the great 
road between Cha-Kul and Biakoff on the Kemchik, a 
distance of fifty miles. The next day we passed over 
an outlying spur of the Tannu-ola, where larch-groves 
gave us welcome shade ; but, beyond this, our route lay 
over barren country again, until, at dusk, we arrived at 
a broad, fertile valley where a number of yurts and 
a large Buddhist temple spoke of an important centre 
of Uriankhai life. 

For six days we made our main camp near the 
temple, whilst lateral expeditions were undertaken to 
the north and south. Price visited the main Kem- 
chik, and the little lake called Sut Kul, which lies in 
the hills to the north of the river, whilst I made a rapid 
survey of the Chedan up to its sources in the Tannu-ola. 

The whole of the Chedan Valley in its central portion 
was a fine camping-ground for the nomads. The three- 
mile-wide valley-bottom was so level that the river- 
course had been diverted with ease, and the water caused 
to meander all over the flat in many different channels, 
thus irrigating the soil and enriching the pasture. The 
pasture zone was bordered on either side by a stream 
of water, and there were four other channels besides 
the main river-bed itself, which, by the way, contained 
scarcely more water than the subsidiary channels. The 


subsidiary channels appeared to be artificial, for we 
noticed that from them innumerable little canals were 
led off in order to allow the water to be continually over- 
flowing and saturating the meadows. The Uriankhai 
herdsmen had thus cleverly utilized ordinary methods 
of irrigation to freshen and renew their pastures ; in 
consequence they had no fear of a summer drought, and 
were not forced to shift their camping-grounds. Only 
the northern half of the Chedan Valley contained good 
land for the herdsmen; the southern half was forested 
and useless for pasture. The northern half, however, 
furnished sufficient ground for a large population, great 
flocks of sheep, and a certain number of cattle or horses. 

Close to our camp was a particularly luxuriant piece 
of meadow-land, and here was situated the Kuria, 
with its group of buildings composing the lamaseries; 
and in the near vicinity stood the great white-felt 
tent of the Noyon, or chief of the Kemchik. All 
tended to produce an imposing and animated scene, a 
scene often come across in Central Asia, where life is 
concentrated into narrow zones and where outside these 
zones " all is desert.' ' The white walls of the square- 
built temple stood as a landmark for many a mile, and 
gave a distinctive air of settled life to this nomad's- 
land. Curling smoke drew attention to where the yurts 
were picturesquely pitched, half hidden under the shade 
of giant larches ; while herds of horses and flocks of 
sheep grazed on meadows so luxuriant and so ex- 
quisitely green that these meadows might well have 
been part of an English landscape, were it not for the 
presence of Uriankhai horsemen and red-robed Buddhist 

The day after our arrival we exchanged visits with 


the deputy of the Noyon, for the chief himself had 
gone on official business to Uliassutai. Here, for the 
first time, we met a man of real rank and importance ; 
certainly the dignity and race-quality of the Kemchik 
chief was beyond question, and struck us forcibly after 
our dealings with the degraded tribes of the upper 
basin. We can well imagine that a stronger element of 
Mongol blood might be possibly mingled with the blood 
of the Kemchik people, for this region is more in touch 
with Mongolia than are the other portions of the basin. 
Here pass the caravans which are responsible for bring- 
ing in new ideas, and for arranging opportunities for 
closer communication with the outside world ; and the 
importance of the district is shown by the fact that the 
Kemchik Noyon is acclaimed as the paramount chief of 
the basin. 

After exchanging cards in Chinese fashion, we visited 
the white-felt yurt which served both as a court of 
justice and as an official residence. Hung up by the 
door were instruments of torture, as a sign of office, 
and as a warning to evil-doers. Amongst these, we 
noticed, were such instruments as the heavy leather ear- 
boxers, the finger-crushers, and various kinds of whips. 
The interior of the yurt was beautifully clean, and decor- 
ated with blue cloth and red felt, whilst around the sides 
stood divans and cabinets of Chinese make. 

The Noyon's deputy and retainers were fine-looking 
men ; they were wearing their official uniforms and 
Chinese hats as an emblem of office. They seemed 
surprised to hear that we had come from Siberia and yet 
disclaimed the honour of being Russians ; neither could 
they understand why we had no papers to show them, 
other than our imposing-looking Chinese passports from 


Pekin. Our conversations were carried on by inter- 
pretation from English into Russian, into Chinese, and 
back again into Uriankhai, the local Chinese trader 
acting as interpreter to us and also as translator of the 

A promise of transport was accorded us, but it was 
very apparent the favour was not willingly given, nor 
were we treated with the respect which any Russian, 
with his well-known and highly valued local passport, 
would have received. We found ourselves hampered 
by the fact that we were still within the bounds of the 
Uriankhai country, which is shut off apart, and kept as 
a reserve for the Uriankhai tribes ; the reservation being 
so strict that no natives are allowed to pass out of it 
beyond the line of guard-houses, which decide the 
southern limit of the native territory on the south of the 
Tannu-ola. We were promised transport, however, as 
far only as one of these posts lying three days' journey 

The Chedan Valley is of distinct importance as being 
on the direct route which cuts across the basin from the 
plains of Minnusinsk and Abakan to Mongolia ; its nor- 
thern end is also crossed by the route which diverges to 
Uliassutai. We acquired a certain amount of information 
respecting the Upper Kemchik Valley, and, from all ac- 
counts, its character is the same throughout as that of 
the Chedan Valley. The entire valley seems to be well 
populated, its climate is the most favourable of the whole 
basin, and its pastures are capable of supporting large 
numbers of sheep and horses. In its characteristics the 
Kemchik Valley is an improvement on the more arid 
Mongolian plateau on the south, or the Abakan steppe 
on the north, representing as it does a somewhat broken 


country of hill and dale, of even temperature and of 
moderate rainfall. 

In spite of the proximity of the Kemchik Valley 
to Siberia and the comparative ease with which it is 
approached, either from the north or south, it still con- 
tains considerable areas of unknown and unmapped 
country. Russian travellers have passed across its 
northern portion, down the central valley, and up to its 
head-waters ; but the southern tributaries and the whole 
of the northern flanks of the Tannu-ola which drain into 
the Kemchik Valley are still unsurveyed. Our energies 
were therefore concentrated, during our stay in the 
Chedan Valley, on mapping the whole river-valley from 
its sources down to its juncture with the Kemchik River. 

The Chedan River had a length of about forty-five 
miles, and was composed of two main branches, which 
flowed parallel for about two-thirds of this distance 
before joining and passing together into the Kemchik. 
The road to Mongolia led up the western valley called 
Kandagai, and this valley we eventually mapped on our 
way over the Tannu-ola. The eastern branch led no- 
where, and was unknown except to a few herdsmen, who, 
during the summer months, drove their horses up on to 
the high ground above the forest. This was the main 
Chedan Valley. For about fifteen to twenty miles this 
valley continued its flat, meadow-like character, then it 
narrowed down and its bottom became choked with 
larch and spruce forest. The bordering hills retained 
their barren nature on the southern flanks, but became 
heavily forested on the north. In pleasant side-valleys 
where there was no jungle I found large encampments 
of natives, while in the main valley, wherever there 
were open spaces, I saw yurts, and, occasionally, small 


fields of millet. In places where the forest overran the 
valley, and left no available pasture-land, the natives 
ceased to utilize it, and only a narrow and very bad 
track remained leading through the forest. The forests 
on the Tannu-ola were, however, of a very different 
type from those of the Syansk. The lowest portions 
were composed of larch and a few spruce ; farther up 
spruce gave way, and cedar took its place, until, upon 
reaching the highest limits of tree-growth, we found 
cedar predominating over the larch. The forest was 
much more open than any we had experienced ; there 
were no bogs, and very little fallen timber to hinder us. 

By making a long day's journey from our camp by 
the Kuria, I succeeded in reaching an altitude of 5,000 ft., 
and spent the night in the open, just below the limit of 
tree-growth. The following morning I climbed up on to 
a bare summit, a spur of the main Tannu-ola. By my 
position on this outlying spur I got a good impression of 
the Tannu-ola range, for about fifty miles towards the 
east and west, and also of the Kemchik Valley. The 
Tannu-ola range proved to be a ridge of remarkably 
simple construction. From this point, at any rate, it 
spread itself out east and west in a narrow, flat-topped 
ridge with terraced flanks. Its character was so uniform 
as to destroy its impression of height, and although 
summits reach to 7,500 ft., and, in its far western end, 
even to 9,000 ft., it did in no way do justice to its 

It seemed to me that the traveller could pass any- 
where on horseback over the Tannu-ola or even along 
its flanks, such was the evenness of its structure. The 
only obstacles which might hinder would be those tiresome 
areas of loose rocks which compose the flat-topped sum- 


mits, and which it was difficult enough to walk over, 
but to ride over would be impossible. The whole pano- 
rama of the range appeared to be the same in character 
both towards the east and west. Very far away, beyond 
the western end of the range, at the sources of the Kem- 
chik, I could discern a great snow-mass, the first view 
of real snow-mountains that we had seen. The highest 
pinnacle of 'this group, which we first observed from 
the Chedan Valley, remained in sight and stood as a 
landmark for the succeeding month's journey across 
North-west Mongolia. It was a great round snow-peak 
of remarkable beauty, and from its position on our maps 
must be located on the Sailugem Range to the north of 
the alpine lake called Kendikti Kul. 

Looking from the same point of vantage, towards the 
Kemchik Valley, I noticed the rough hill-country which 
bordered the river on its north, and the more open 
area to its south, while far away to the west the lie of 
the land gave one the impression of the valley being 
quite shut in and enclosed by rugged hills. However, 
a cart-track, which extended for some seventy miles 
up the main valley, the existence of Kurias and centres 
of Uriankhai life, showed that the region was well- 
favoured, and that in between the hills there must have 
been luxuriant valleys and good pastures. The notable 
difference between the highlands of the Tannu-ola and 
the other ranges in the basin was that they produced 
a certain amount of pasture suitable for horses to graze 
on during the summer. We repeatedly saw large herds 
of horses on the highest ridges, where the natives drive 
them, to avoid the troublesome flies of the lowlands, 
and to graze them on the short but succulent mountain- 


From the high point to which I climbed I saw no sign 
of snow on any part of the Tannu-ola that came under 
my observation, and its name, which literally means 
" Snowy," seems to be somewhat unsuitable. It is 
probable, that, owing to the bare, smooth summits of 
the range, any heavy snowfall they may receive in 
winter melts quickly in summer. The depression of 
Lake Ubsa, which lies just over the range on the south, 
may cause an extra heavy precipitation, as it undoubtedly 
causes a very heavy snowfall on the Turgun Mountains 
to the south of the lake, thus making the Tannu-ola, at 
certain seasons, worthy of its name. But the traveller 
expecting a fine mountain panorama of snow-topped 
ranges in the Tannu-ola will be disappointed. 

On my return to the main camp we planned our 
onward journey, repacked our kit, and awaited the 
promised transport. Meanwhile, a visit to the Kuria 
amused us, and was most instructive, as throwing light 
on the influence Buddhism has on the simple nature- 
worshippers and as showing to what remarkable dimness 
the " Light of Asia " has dwindled. The Kuria was 
an imposing building of white stucco, surmounted by a 
frieze of brown, with blue marginal lines, dotted with 
white. It was square in shape, with three sides un- 
broken by windows or doors, and the fourth largely taken 
up by a portico supported by wooden pillars, which led 
in to four large folding-doors. Buddhistic emblems sur- 
mounted the building at its four corners, and were also 
carved on the doors. 

As we approached, a mob of evil-looking, ill-kempt 
young lamas and students surrounded us and made 
insolent gestures, but, by interviewing the head lama, we 
were permitted to enter the temple ; the crowd of dirty, 

Chedan Valley. 

Buddhist Lamas. 



brute-like men, boys, and priests so greatly annoyed us, 
however, that we were forced to leave. This is a remark- 
able instance of the sudden and complete change which 
may be effected under the so-called influence of religion. 
We could hardly recognize our shy, retiring, harmless 
Uriankhai in this noisy, pushing, interfering mob. The 
brutal, sensual expression of the lamas stood in marked 
contrast to the placid, almost fearsome, demeanour of 
their lay-brothers — the wild woodmen and shepherds. 
There were said to be about three hundred lamas and 
neophytes attached to the Kuria. 

The interior of the temple was draped with gaudily 
coloured flags, and hangings of every conceivable hue. 
Scrolls of silk with coloured pictures of Buddha hung on 
the walls, and gigantic gilt images stood in glass-fronted 
cases at the head of the building. The contents of the 
Kuria mostly consisted of cheap, trashy material from 
Uliassutai and Urga. A few pieces of old silk and brass- 
ware attracted our attention, but they were not to be 
purchased, in spite of our generous offers. 

One evening at sunset a curious religious ceremony 

took place just outside the Kuria. A procession was 

formed of all the lamas attached to the temple, and these, 

dressed up in all the finery of old silk robes, carrying 

banners, blowing trumpets, beating drums, and firing 

guns, marched out to where there had already been 

erected an " obo," or small shrine made of branches and 

brushwood. The accoutrements of the head lamas were 

covered with red and yellow silks, the trumpets they 

carried were 12 ft. long, and, being made of brass, were 

so heavy that it needed a small boy to support the 

end whilst the priest blew at the mouthpiece. The 

drums were equally unique, the hide of which the drum 

I— 13 


was made being dyed green, with red-and-yellow devices 
painted upon it. On reaching the obo the procession 
formed up into line, the gun-bearers fired two volleys, 
and then with great ceremony the high-priest set the 
obo on fire, and when properly alight the whole 
assembly circled round the fire until it had burnt itself 

The Kurias of the Upper Yenisei basin are generally 
located near the residences of the Noyons, or head-men, 
and therefore in the most largely populated localities. 
There are six in all : three in different parts of the Kem- 
chik Valley, one in the Elegess Valley, on the south side 
cf the Ulu-Kem, one in the Upper Khua-Kem region, 
near Lake Teri Nor, and one in the Upper Bei-Kem 
district. All are under the direct control of the Dalai- 
Lama at Urga, and the lesser lamas are in constant 
communication with that important centre of Mongolian 
religious life. These temples are the only permanent 
buildings which are associated with the everyday life 
of the native, and they doubtless do a great deal to 
attach him to certain localities, both by reason of his 
religious fears and as forming a centre for barter and 

When at last, by considerable effort and the aid of 
bribes, we acquired the use of eight oxen and half a 
dozen men, we were in a position to think of moving 
the expedition forward. The expanse of the Kemchik 
Valley, and the shortness of time, determined us to leave 
the basin and cross into Mongolia. We therefore loaded 
up the eight oxen with the entire kit, each ox carrying 
two horse-loads, and moved on very slowly towards 
the Borashay Pass, which leads by way of the Kandagai 
branch of the Chedan over the Tannu-ola. 


The Kandagai Valley resembled the Chedan in 
scenery, but a well-used route led up it, and by an easy 
gradient we crept up to the summit of the pass. The 
passage of the Tannu-ola was full of interest and sur- 
prises. In the course of a two days' journey we passed 
from 3,190 ft. in the Chedan Valley up to 6,854 ft- a * 
the watershed and eventually down to 5,000 ft. on the 
Mongolian plateau beyond. We appreciated to the full 
the unusual topography of this region, — the terraced 
flanks of the Tannu-ola, the long, gradual incline which 
led up to the watershed, and the sharp but slight drop- 
off to the Mongolian plateau on the south. As we 
accomplished this last trek in the Yenisei basin we 
noted with growing interest that the scenery, the flora, 
and indeed the whole atmosphere of the region was 
changing. Although we had no high altitude to attain, 
and no difficult pass to climb, we realized that we were 
on the eve of coming across a great transformation, that 
this southern wall of the basin formed an important 
dividing-line, and that, after accomplishing its passage, 
we should arrive at an entirely different land, offering 
us still greater opportunities for the study of new races 
of people and unique physical conditions. 

The actual watershed was a rounded ridge almost 
flat at its summit ; here the forest grew as dwarfed scrub, 
and the miniature trees appeared to be wind-worn and 
storm-battered. Higher ground lay on either hand, in 
the shape of flat-topped, terraced ridges, which rose some 
few hundred feet above the tree-line. This, then, was 
the threshold of Mongolia. As our mixed caravan of 
oxen and horses crept to the top of the pass, and wended 
their way slowly down the southern side, we made a 
detour to the west in order to climb to a point of vantage 


from which to gain a view of the new country that lay 
ahead of us. From a flat-topped ridge we gazed back 
once more into dark, stormy Siberia, whilst before us, as 
a contrast, lay the pale-coloured steppes and plateaux of 
Mongolia, giving a strong impression of intense light, 
of aridity, and of a profound unrest. 



" They have no horses, but in the stead of them they 
tame certain wild beasts which they call Reem, being 
of the just bigness of a Mule, with rough hair like an 
Ass, cloven feet and branched horns like a Harte but 
lower and with few antlettes. I suppose that this thing 
was somewhat known to the old writers, although re- 
ceived in manner by an obscure and doubtful fame. For 
they also write that certain Sythians do ride on Hartes." 

Thus Richard Eden, as long ago as 1555, recorded 
for the first time in the English language the information 
he had gathered of the " North east Frosty Seas and 
Kingdoms lying that way," and thus he gave us the first 
intimation of the reindeer-keeping tribes of Northern 

Marco Polo, too, passed on to us the information he 
had gained during his journeys in Cathay, and men- 
tioned certain people, inhabiting a region along the 
Northern Frontier of the Chinese Empire, who were a 
" wild race and lived by their cattle, which were stags, 
and these stags they used to ride upon." * In the few 

1 These references apply broadly to the forest-dwelling tribes of 
Southern Siberia near Lake Baikal, and cannot be taken as specially 
referring to the Uriankhai of the Upper Yenisei region. 



references we have of these people we find emphasis is 
always laid upon the fact of this (to them) unique custom 
of keeping and rearing " stags " as a means of liveli- 
hood, as well as for transport. The existence of the 
reindeer-keeping races in Southern Siberia appealed 
strongly to the imagination of the writers on China, 
who had perhaps never come in contact with the Lapps, 
Finns, and Samoyedes, representing the reindeer-tribes 
of the far north. 

In spite of the knowledge handed down to us by 
these old writers, it did not seem to be known until we 
visited the land of the Uriankhai in 1910 that a 
race existed within the confines of the Chinese Empire, 
a certain section of which was entirely dependent upon 
the herds of reindeer for their subsistence, and that the 
reindeer even lives in a wild state on the ranges border- 
ing Siberia and Mongolia. Russian travellers were 
aware of it, and it is a proof of our complete ignorance 
of Russian literature that this special information never 
came through to the rest of Europe. But it is not only 
this peculiarity in their customs which is of such interest, 
it is the strange fact of the very existence of these 
people, every detail of whose life-history, every record 
of whose habits, haunts, and religious ideas is of peculiar 
historical value ; the Uriankhai representing, as they do, 
the remnant of an ancient race dwelling in seclusion in 
the very heart of a great continent. 

In a previous chapter, when describing the ancient 
inhabitants of the Abakan and Minnusinsk steppes, the 
origin and early history of the present-day Uriankhai 
was also mentioned. I showed that the original inhabi- 
tants of the plains of the Siberian Yenisei were gradually 
ousted by stronger incoming races, such as Uigur and 


Tartar, and on this account eventually pushed back 
into remote regions, such as the tundras of far Northern 
Siberia and the forests of the Upper Yenisei basin. 
During those periods of racial upheaval the ancient 
Yeniseians, or Tubas — as they were called — fell under the 
influence of many other races, but those who retreated 
to the backwoods of the Upper Yenisei preserved their 
original type better than might have been expected, on 
account of their complete seclusion. After the varied 
course of the history of the Uriankhai, and their final 
retreat from Siberian Yenisei to the Upper Yenisei basin, 
we hear of them again in the sixteenth century as belong- 
ing to one of the six divisions into which the Mongol 
people were divided, which means that they were by 
that time incorporated in the Chinese Empire. It was 
in this century, no doubt, that the boundaries of the 
territory given over to them were delimited, and the 
Upper Yenisei basin became their recognized home. 

The name Uriankhai, or Uriangut, is Chinese. It 
was first broadly applied by the Chinese to the tribes 
along the Siberian-Mongol frontier, who live in the 
forested areas ; and the term would thus include the Tubas 
of the Upper Yenisei basin, the Uigurs of Lake Kossogol, 
and the Tunguses of Trans-Baikalia. The word simply 
means " Forest-dweller." At the present day the term 
is solely applied to the inhabitants of the Upper Yenisei 
basin, and to a small tribe who live on the eastern 
flanks of the Altai. A better title for the tribes of the 
Upper Yenisei would be their own name for themselves — 
'Tuba/' for this specifies these people alone, and cannot 
be extended to any other forest-dwelling race. Tuba 
is not a tribal name, but the title of the once intact, but 
now scattered, nation of Samoyedes. The word " Soiot," 


which is the name usually applied by the Russians to 
these people, is, I imagine, a case of mistaken identity. 
The first Russian visitor found the Uriankhai living 
under like conditions, and with like customs, to the true 
Soiots of Central Siberia, and, imagining them alike, 
hastily called them Soiots, whereas in reality the two 
tribes have nothing in common. 

The Russian traveller Klementz says that the Tubas 
were originally a race of Samoyedes inhabiting Southern 
Siberia, who gave the name to the right affluent of the 
Yenisei, the Tuba. The descendants of these Tubas 
inhabit the vicinity of Minnusinsk and speak a Turkish 
tongue (Abakan Tartars ?). The name of Tuba was 
mentioned for the first time in the Chinese Annals of 
the Ta dynasty. These records speak of a certain tribe — 
" Doubo" — living in the mountains, and devoted to the 
chase and to robbery. The Persian historian Raschid-ed- 
din mentions these same tribes as inhabiting "the forests 
of Mongolia " at the time of Jenghis Khan. Amongst 
other things he recorded names which correspond to 
the Uriankhai clan of the present day — such as Oinar 
and Ondar. The next reference to the Tubas, or Urian- 
khai, was made by William of Rubruck in 1255, who 
included the name Orengai amongst his list of tribes, 
who dwelt in the region to the north of Mongolia. 

The near neighbours of the Tubas who dwell on the 
shores of Lake Kossogol divide themselves into two 
clans, the Darkat and Uriankhai, the latter calling 
themselves " Uigur.' ' The Darkat are, however, of the 
same race as the Uriankhai, but speak the Mongol 
language. The Abakan Tartars, who dwell in the region 
occupied in the old days by the Yeniseians, and their de- 
scendants, have also affinities with the Tubas, especially as 


regards language. Great familiarity and sympathy exist 
between the two people, who hold each other in as great 
esteem as if they were of the same blood. In physical 
features, too, they have much in common, and there is 
little doubt that at one time they were socially and 
politically identical one with the other. Adrianoff called 
the language of the Uriankhai " Tartar," and noted 
how easily his Tartars from the Abakan spoke with the 
natives of the Upper Yenisei basin. Kastren, speaking 
on the knowledge we get from the study of languages, 
recognizes the Tubas as a tribe of Samoyedes, having 
been subject to Turkish (Uigur) influence, and having 
adopted their language ; but it is difficult to place them 
in regard to their close neighbours the Soiots, Tunguses, 
and Buriats, for all traditions are forgotten. 

The Uriankhai, or Uriangut, the remnant of the Tuba 
nation, at the present day are confined to the region 
enclosed on the north by the Russo-Chinese frontier, 
which runs between the Eastern Altai and Lake Kossogol, 
and on the south by the line of Mongol guard-houses, 
or Karauls, which are placed at intervals along the 
southern foot-hills of the Tannu-ola. This area is chiefly 
occupied by the basin of the Upper Yenisei, as described 
in Chapter III., but it includes also the strip of country 
beyond the watershed of the Tannu-ola, namely, the 
southern slopes of that range as far as the above-men- 
tioned Karauls." 1 The area prescribed to the Urian- 
khai is roughly about 52,555 sq. miles. Beyond this 
boundary they do not roam. On the south they are 

1 The inhabitants of the Kossogol basin are ethnographically the same 
as the Uriankhai, but are much more Mongolized. Their territory is 
geographically cut off from the Upper Yenisei basin, and belongs to a 
different administrative division. 


hemmed in by the Mongol guards and forbidden egress ; 
but on the north a freer country allows those who desire 
to do so to visit the towns and villages of Siberia. Re- 
strictions are scarcely necessary, for the Uriankhai are 
of a most retiring disposition, and do not often trouble 
the outside world. Not so long ago, however, the Urian- 
khai ranged over the northern slopes of the Syansk Range 
into the region at the sources of the Kandat, Kazir, and 
Tuba Rivers, but now they only visit the northern side 
of the watershed in order to hunt in winter. Over the 
whole of this area the Uriankhai are sparsely distributed 
in isolated encampments. Certain regions are quite un- 
inhabited, whilst others, on account of more favourable 
conditions, are comparatively densely populated. 

It would be difficult to give an exact estimate of 
the number of Uriankhai. Many of the tribes have 
never been seen by any traveller, and in summer, when 
the Uriankhai are alone approachable, the encampments 
are distributed in small, isolated groups over large areas 
of dense forest, and in valleys whose very existence is 
quite unknown. M. Paul Chalon places the maximum 
population of the basin at 100,000 souls, and the Chinese 
reckon the Uriankhai country as forming one " Aimak," 
or territorial division. 

The Uriankhai are divided into five principal tribes, 
whose names and whose distribution are as follows : 

(1) The Toji tribe, holding the whole of the Upper 
Bei-Kem region at the eastern end of the basin, their 
territory being bounded on the south by the Khua-Kem 
and on the west by the Utt River, and their chief centre 
being on the Dora-Kern steppe, where the residence of 
their Noyon, or chief, and their Kuria are situated. 

(2) The Saljak tribe, inhabiting the region of the 


south of the Khua-Kem and ranging as far west as the 
valley of the Elegness. 

(3) The Mardi, a small clan living in the confined area 
between the Rivers Utt and Uiuk. 

(4) The Oina, who hold both banks of the Ulu-Kem 
on the north and south, between the territory of the 
Saljak, the Mardi, and the Kemchik. Cha-Kul may well 
be taken as their western limit. 

(5) The Kemchik 1 tribe may be classed in one or two 
sections. The entire population of this western portion 
of the basin — the Kemchik Valley — comprises nearly a 
third of the entire population of the basin. These are 
classed together or separately. In old days two heredi- 
tary chiefs kept their own sections apart, but latterly 
the Chinese have endeavoured to place them all together 
under one Noyon. 

These main tribes are subdivided into numerous 
clans, who collect together in encampments, and claim 
certain geographical areas as their own. It is difficult 
to say to what extent the main tribes are separated 
one from the other ; but we are inclined to believe 
that the divisions are dependent on the exclusive rights 
to certain pasturages and hunting-grounds. Within the 
basin the Uriankhai move about as they wish, each 
section or tribe keeping to its own allotted area for grazing 
or hunting, but beyond the boundary of the Mongol 
guards the} 7 dare not pass. The area allotted to them 
serves as a reservation, which is a favour granted by their 
Chinese rulers, in the same way that the territory of each 
Mongol chief in Mongolia, and of each Kalmuk tribe in 

1 The Kemchik was, in the time of Jenghis, inhabited by Kirghiz 
and Kem-Kemjuks, closely allied Turkish tribes, who lately, in the seven- 
teenth century, migrated to Dzungaria and farther westwards. They 
are the origin of the true Kirghiz, the Buruts — Black, or Rock Kirghiz. 


Far Western China, is reserved intact for that chief or 
tribe, thus preserving their independence. 

The Uriankhai are at the present day all under 
the suzerainty of China. They were probably an in- 
dependent people until the coming of Jenghis Khan in 
the thirteenth century. Then they became subjects 
of that great conqueror. Later on, the allegiance which 
they at first owed to the Mongols passed eventually to 
the rulers at Pekin. Jenghis is still worshipped amongst 
the Uriankhai as a deity. All good things are attributed 
to the great Mongol chieftain ; he taught them, they say, 
to sow wheat and to make irrigation-canals. On the 
death of Jenghis the Uriankhai came under the rule of 
his third son, Gesser Khan. With the establishment of 
the Manchu dynasty, and the fall of the Mongols, the 
Uriankhai passed under the suzerainty of the Emperor 
at Pekin, and ever since they have been under the 
administration of a Chinese official of military rank, resi- 
dent at Uliassutai. They differ, however, from other 
vassal tribes in that their chiefs are not considered of 
much account, and do not pay homage in person to 
the Emperor at Pekin. 

For each separate tribe there is a Noyon, or local 
chief, who is responsible for the taxes of his section and 
for the local government of the people under his charge. 
The Noyons of the minor tribes — the Toji, Saljak, 
Oina, and Mardi — are responsible to the chief Noyon of 
the Kemchik tribe, whose precedence is recognized 
throughout the basin, and who, in his turn, is directly 
responsible to the official of Uliassutai for the taxation 
and affairs of the whole Uriankhai people. Some writers 
say that there is another intermediary between the chief 
of the Kemchik and the Uliassutai official, in the person 

■ ■ 

Ala-su encampment. 

" ■■ '■ ;■■>•- 


■■■ ■■■ ■ ' vWafetW. ■ 

2o 4 


of the Amban of the Tess, — a well-populated region on 
the south of the Tannu-ola, in the Ubsa basin; but, as 
this region is not inhabited by Uriankhai, and its Amban 
does not represent Pekin officialdom, it is difficult to 
understand what business the two can have in common, 
unless it is an instance of one more grasping hand 
through which the taxes must pass, and one more 
greedy official claiming his share of the spoil. 

It is noteworthy, however, that in the old days the 
11 Khan of the Ubsa district " was considered to be para- 
mount chief of these regions, his power extending far 
into Siberia, and he held all the Uriankhai in subjection. 
Ho worth mentions that, in the early part of the seventeenth 
century, numerous embassies passed between Russia and 
the Altan Khan, who then had his residence beside Lake 
Ubsa. " Altan Khan " was a title held by all the Khans 
of the Ubsa confederacy. He was evidently a frontier 
chief of great importance, he exchanged many presents 
with the Czar of Russia, and eventually took an oath of 
allegiance to him. But later on his power failed, the Aba- 
kan and Yenisei tribes broke away from him — and have 
remained Russian subjects to this day, whilst he himself 
became free from any dealings with the Czar. Whether 
the Altan Khan owned the Tess region or the Turgun 
highlands, or both, and whether we can trace the remains 
of his kingdom in the Dalai Khan of the Durbets, who 
to-day hold the whole Ubsa basin outside the Tess Valley, 
we cannot say. 

It will be seen from this that the Uriankhai are well 
looked after, and in spite of the fact that they are at the 
farthest corner of the Empire they still have to pay in full 
their yearly tribute. The suzerainty of Pekin gives a stand- 
ing to the local chiefs, who are only too willing to raise 


the tribute in return for a recognition of their authority. 
The rich grind the poor, and the strong bully the weak, 
with the result that there is a growing tendency to look 
towards Siberia as a land of freedom. With the gradual 
influx of Russians into the Upper Yenisei region, and 
the growth of their trade and influence, this tendency 
will be increased, and the absorption of the Uriankhai 
by the Siberians will be but a matter of time. 

Besides the Noyons there are a considerable number 
of smaller chiefs — heads of encampments or heads 
of the richer families — and still lower in order are 
the herdsmen, who form the bulk of the population. 
Besides these we have to reckon with the religious com- 
munity, which, as in other Buddhist countries, includes 
a large proportion of the population. The lamas hold 
a strong position, having much influence over the affairs 
of the tribes, and by using this influence they drain the 
already overtaxed herdsman of his patrimony. 

The Uriankhai pay tribute to the Chinese officials, 
but are not called upon for military service. Chalon 
estimates the yearly taxation of the Uriankhai to amount 
to about 60,000 roubles, all of which passes into the 
hands of the official at Uliassutai. The tax paid by the 
ordinary Uriankhai is supposed to represent a tenth 
part of his herds, or he may pay the tax in furs of equal 
value ; we imagine this, however, to be a very nominal 
amount, as the wild forest-dwellers, especially the 
reindeer-keepers, would be difficult subjects to bring to 
justice if they wished to evade the law. The local chiefs 
all get their share, and the bulk of the population exists 
in serfdom owing to the continuous extortion of tribute. 
The taxes are payable in any form : mares, cattle, sheep, 
and goats are supplied by the steppe-dwellers ; furs by 


the reindeer-keepers ; feathers, eagles' tails, the down of 
aquatic birds — such as swans, ducks, geese, and grebes 
— are brought in by the lake-people of the upper basin. 

Adrianoff , the Russian traveller, says that the division 
of taxation is thus, — the entire Uriankhai people compose 
one "Aimak" — a Chinese term, denoting a large terri- 
torial division — and are liable to pay, as tribute, one 
thousand " oureghe " in a year. An oureghe is used as 
a tax unit per thousand head of cattle, and must equal 
the value of three sable-skins. Thus the Uriankhai 
people owe, as tribute to China, the value of three thou- 
sand sable-skins in the year. 

So far as I can find out, the system of taxation is 
thus, — the tax is levied on each yurt-holder, according 
to the total number of cattle owned by the inmates of 
the yurt, whether it be a whole family or a single indi- 
vidual. The poor herdsmen, who own neither yurt nor 
cattle, are free from taxes. The others pay in proportion 
of an oureghe — three sable-skins, or one hundred and 
twenty squirrel-skins, per thousand head of cattle. Thus 
the tax may vary from a few squirrel-skins upwards, 
according to the wealth of the owners. 

If the tax remains the same now as it was then, and 
the number of sable-skins demanded has not been reduced 
owing to the increased value of the sable, we are sorry 
for our friends the Uriankhai. We presume, however, 
that all such values are very uncertain. The comparative 
values of the furs are interesting ; a man may bring 
a sable, or forty squirrels, or six wolves, or six martens. 
A snow-leopard is accounted equal in value to twenty 
squirrels, a wolf, and a marten, whilst a fox-skin is the 
same value as twenty squirrels. These were the pro- 
portionate values of long ago ; but we hope, for the sake 


of the overtaxed natives, that a revision of the laws has 
been made, owing to the gradual extermination of the 
fur-bearing animals. 

It is difficult to deal with the social and economic 
conditions of the Uriankhai as a whole, for the tribes 
vary much amongst themselves, owing to the different 
conditions under which they live. The habits of the 
Toji tribe are as unlike those of the Kemchik as they 
are those of the Mongols. We might group all the 
tribes of the upper basin together, and describe them 
as being the most typical, and at the same time the most 
independent of outside influence. The tribes of the 
central and lower basin again differ, in that they have 
come more in touch with the Mongols, their country 
approaching Mongolia in physical features. The Toji, 
the Saljak, and the Mardi live in more or less similar 
surroundings. They all have the forests as their habitat, 
and the wet taiga as their playground ; they live in 
the tangled jungle or on the luxuriant meadows, and 
their habits are entirely moulded by their surroundings. 

To these three tribes of Uriankhai, then, we must 
look as having the most marked characteristics. The 
Uriankhai must undoubtedly be placed amongst the 
category of nomad races, although, as a matter of fact, 
their nomadic tendency is somewhat undeveloped. It 
remains an advantage to them to be able to shift their 
abodes ; for this reason their dwellings, in all cases, are 
portable and easily moved. There are occasions when 
settled abodes would be an advantage, and the building 
of them quite feasible, yet so far they have not found 
it necessary to erect permanent homes. The Abakan 
Tartars of the Minnusinsk region have for long built their 
quaint huts of logs — permanent dwellings — in exact re- 


production of the felt-tents they formerly used ; but 
not so the Uriankhai, for, even when they dig canals and 
sow fields of millet, they still camp beside their lands, 
and still use their movable tents. 

The habit of nomadism varies also according to the 
possessions of the tribes in the way of flocks and herds, 
and the different treatment the stock requires. The 
reindeer-keepers, for instance, must perforce visit the 
higher regions during the heat of summer, for the pre- 
servation of the reindeer, which cannot stand the high 
temperature of the low country. Reindeer delight 
in and require, intense cold, and it is strange to find 
that this animal, which ranges to within ten degrees of 
the Pole, is able to exist at this low latitude. Only the 
geographical position of the region — in the heart of a 
continent — and its plateau-like nature compensate for 
the latitude, and make their existence possible. But 
even then the reindeer require special handling, and we 
can put down the migrating habits of the clans who 
keep reindeer to the necessity of finding cool summer 
resorts for their welfare. But the owners of cattle, 
horses, sheep, and goats need not necessarily migrate 
farther than the ordinary changes of pasture demand. 
Consequently the reindeer-Uriankhai are the most migra- 
tory in their habits. 

Let us look at the annual programme of this branch 
of the Toji tribe. In spring, as soon as the hot weather 
melts the snow, the herdsmen shift from their winter 
quarters on the shores of the Toji Kul, or along the 
banks of the Bei-Kem. Rolling up their strips of birch- 
bark, and packing their few belongings on the backs of 
the reindeer, they travel through the narrow forest-paths 
to the luxuriant meadows, which are situated at about 
I— 14 


3,500 ft. in altitude. The poles of their tents they do 
not need to carry, as they keep a stock of these in their 
winter quarters and another stock at their summer resort. 
This insignificant fact shows with what regularity their 
migrations are carried out. These migrations are not 
wanderings in search of pasture, as is the case with 
many nomad tribes, but well-established yearly moves 
from one camping-ground to another. 

For four months during the summer the reindeer- 
herds are kept in these high regions. In autumn the 
tribes begin to move again ; the men go off in small 
parties to hunt for furs in the more distant ranges, or 
into the forests, which are never penetrated on any other 
occasion, whilst the women and the herds are sent down 
to the winter quarters. Winter is the season for trade 
with the Russian settlers, for winter means spare time, 
the herds requiring small attention. The scattered en- 
campments then meet at the popular winter resorts, 
and much traffic and trade is carried on between the 
various tribes. Summer is essentially the season for 
attending to the breeding of flocks and herds, amongst 
nomadic tribes throughout all Asia. 

The remainder of the tribes, those who own flocks 
and herds and possess no reindeer, move their homes 
according to the supply of pasture, which in most 
localities is so rich and plentiful that the migrations 
scarcely deserve the name. All summer and winter 
these Uriankhai may be found in the main Bei-Kem 
Valley, their tents being pitched on the open down- 
lands or in the forests. The shepherds, who use the 
open lands, are less able to reside in one particular 
locality than are the cattle and horse herdsmen, owing 
to a scarcity of pasture which necessitates the changing 


of their grazing-grounds ; but even they move about in a 
lesser degree than the reindeer-keepers. 

The great wealth of grass in the upper part of the 
basin and amongst the forests tends to scatter the popu- 
lation. Small encampments are to be found dotted at 
intervals over large areas, the natives being free to 
wander where they will and take their choice of innumer- 
able luxuriant pasturages. But in the lower part of the 
basin, in the more arid areas, the population is re- 
stricted to narrower zones. The pastures are poorer, 
and consequently the movement in search of grass be- 
comes greater. Certain areas are capable of supporting 
the flocks and herds throughout the summer's heat, and 
on these areas concentrate the bulk of the Uriankhai 
population ; it is in these same localities that signs of 
sedentary habits are forthcoming. 

Yet another force, that of religion, is responsible for 
influencing the distribution and movement of the tribes. 
The building of temples and lamaseries — the only signs 
of absolutely settled life in the Uriankhai world — is 
necessitated by the presence of the religious element, and 
this may have affected the nomads, by causing a kind 
of desire towards centralization, which will gradually 
tend to make them less migratory. The temples, or 
Kurias, form a centre for administration and trade, as 
well as for the purposes of religion. The chiefs reside 
in the neighbourhood, Siberian traders pitch their tents 
near by, and the bulk of the population congregate here 
during the winter months. The position of the Kuria 
indicates more or less the headquarters of each tribe, 
and probably also denotes the whereabouts of the best- 
favoured localities. 

The domestic economy of the Urankhai is simple in 


the extreme. There are few nomads whose existence 
depends on such simple requirements as those of the 
reindeer-keeping Uriankhai. Imagine a people who live 
on the produce of a single species of animal life, who 
depend on it for their food, clothing, and transport, and 
for their other needs rely entirely on the gifts of the 
forest and of nature. Nothing else affects their lives 
but the wild game and the roots of the taiga ; nothing 
disturbs their tranquillity beyond the possibility of evil 
spirits destroying their herds. They want very little, 
and are contented. 

The reindeer-keepers belong chiefly to the Toji clan, 
and are to be found mostly in the far eastern and north- 
eastern corner of the basin ; there may be in existence 
a small section of the Saljak tribe who keep reindeer 
on the head-waters of the Khua-Kem, but we are still 
doubtful whether reindeer-encampments exist or not on 
the ranges between this river and the Bei-Kem. Apart 
from this probability only small numbers of reindeer- 
keepers are to be found amongst the Oina tribe on the 
south side of the Syansk. Thus the range and distribu- 
tion of the domesticated reindeer inside the basin is 
remarkably small. To the east they extend over the 
Syansk into the region of Lake Kossogol, but beyond 
that lake no reindeer-tribes are to be met with, until 
one comes across the Tunguses, in the forests to the 
north-east of Lake Baikal. The existence of wild rein- 
deer in these regions seems to prove that undoubtedly 
the reindeer-keeping clans must have been resident here 
for a very long time. No matter what may have been 
the movements of the other tribes, — even if they formerly 
belonged to the Minnusinsk region, the reindeer-keepers 
must, at any rate, have always lived in the highlands of 


the Syansk. Probably in the old days they ranged 
farther north than now, for there is no geographical 
boundary, no physical obstacle, to obstruct them ; they 
probably lived then in the ranges overlooking the low- 
lands of the present-day Minnusinsk, where dwelt their 
kinsmen who owned cattle, horses, and sheep. The 
wild reindeer of the Syansk must have been the original 
type of the domesticated stock, for there is no reason 
to suppose that the Uriankhai migrated into the regions 
of the Upper Yenisei, bringing their reindeer with them. 
For this and many other reasons we devoted the 
most careful study and observation to the reindeer- 
keepers and their encampment in the Ala-su Valley ; so 
crude a race were they, and so completely dependent 
were they upon nature, it was difficult to imagine a 
people existing in such a primitive state in the present 
century and at the same time in such close proximity 
to other civilized races. The effect of their environ- 
ment has protected them from outside influence, and the 
Uriankhai live on, unaffected and uninfluenced by their 
near neighbours. It is on account of the natural diffi- 
culties of the country, of the mountain-crossings and of 
the dense forests, that the Upper Yenisei basin has re- 
mained thus isolated and untouched by outside influence. 
Strangers have not been tempted to penetrate its wilds, 
and the indigenous tribes, revelling in their seclusion, 
have no desire to leave its solitudes. Shyness, independ- 
ence, fear of intrusion, and superstition are for this reason 
characteristics of the reindeer-keeping Uriankhai, who 
in consequence hide themselves in the forests, and live as 
best they can on the beasts they herd. They are a tribe 
which must soon disappear through the introduction of 
a stronger and more go-ahead people, or by the mere 



importation of intoxicating drinks, for it is evident that 
we are dealing with a race who are. on the decrease, 
their numbers being already small and the introduction 
of fresh blood being very rare. The fact of these small 
encampments being found in a region brimming over 
with w T ealth of pastures and showing thousands of square 
miles of untenanted lands full of possibilities, proves 
that the reindeer-keepers are no longer capable of in- 
creasing their species. 

Living isolated existences, dependent upon their 
skill in hunting and their knowledge of reindeer-breed- 
ing, the Uriankhai have become, in consequence, both 
self-reliant and independent. Their lives do not show 
any particular hardship, for pasture is ample, food 
easily procured, and they have no enemies ; we have 
here an example of a nomad race who are not forced to 
make any great effort, who are more or less settled in 
ideas, if not in their actual manner of life, and who are 
never driven to fight, raid, or make expeditions out of 
their own territory. 

The Uriankhai are consequently self-reliant when 
dealing with their own affairs, but they are altogether at 
a loss and full of fear when they encounter things they 
themselves do not clearly understand. A look of both 
sadness and melancholy is stamped upon their faces, 
as might be expected in a people who are in constant 
fear of the gods of the mountains, rivers, and forests, 
dreading the evil spirits that haunt the land, and whose 
whole time is taken up with propitiating these spirits 
lest harm befall them. Such a people are easily domin- 
ated by any one with a strong hand, or possessing a 
show of superior knowledge, and we found the chiefs 
grinding down the poor, the Shamnan witch-doctors 


214 I 


having absolutely their own way, and the Buddhist 
lamas living on their lay brethren. 

The Uriankhai is lazy and independent ; he works 
only when he has a desire to work, and would far sooner 
run wild in the forest hunting the roe-deer and the maral 
and live in comparative poverty, than work for the 
Russian colonists and earn a good wage. He is a child 
of the forest, and has no desire to better himself. This 
has hindered his advance and doomed him to perpetual 
serfdom. Hidden away behind the ranges, in the 
depths of his forest -home, the Uriankhai has eked out 
his existence, wholly independent of outside influence. 
The Mongols and Chinese have successfully demanded 
tribute from him, the Russians have tried to employ him, 
and have indeed succeeded in doing a certain amount 
of trade with him ; but all the Uriankhai really wants is 
to be left alone. His shy, wild nature prevents him 
from frequenting the villages or towns. He may pay 
a hasty visit to the trade-centres in order to exchange 
a few furs for tobacco and gunpowder; but his forests 
attract him most, and he hurries back again, not to be 
seen perhaps for another twelve months. The Russian 
trader advances him the few luxuries he indulges in — 
such as tea, snuff, and tobacco ; for the Uriankhai has no 
ready money, and eventually, after a successful hunting- 
expedition, the goods are paid for in furs. An Uriankhai 
may even be lucky enough to pay off his debt for the 
whole year at the Russian trader's store in the course of 
one month's fur-hunting. Such easily gained success is 
no incentive to advance. 

In appearance the Uriankhai are of a mixed ethno- 
logical type. Taking them as a whole, we can divide 
them into two sections — those of the upper basin and 


those of the Kemchik, two natural divisions which are 
impressed on us, also, by reason of certain physical and 
climatic differences between the regions inhabited by 
the two races. The inhabitants of the upper basin, and 
especially the reindeer-keeping clans, are the least touched 
by Mongol influence, whilst those of the Kemchik are 
the most influenced by the outside world. The varia- 
tions between the two types are from almost pure Mon- 
golic features to almost typical European, this divergence 
in type being noticed throughout the community 
irrespective of the two different divisions, although the 
Kemchik race approach more nearly to the Mongolic 
type than any other. 

The encampments of reindeer-keepers on the Ala-su 
showed us what remarkable variations of features this 
one clan of Uriankhai possessed. There was no one 
type, and scarcely two individuals had like characteristics. 
On the whole, they were of rather small build, lean and 
wiry, which gave them the appearance of being quick 
and agile ; but some were sturdily built and well-propor- 
tioned. According to Price's estimates, the average 
height of a man was from 5 ft. 4 in. to 5 ft. 6 in., and 
that of a woman from 4 ft. 6 in. to 4 ft. 7 in. Their 
facial features showed either the typical Mongol charac- 
teristics, namely, the " drawn " upper eyelid which 
forms an almond-shaped eye, and broad, prominent 
cheek-bones, or European features, with eyes large and 
round, noses often thin and aquiline, and with scarcely 
any prominence of the cheek-bone. The latter type is 
the most common in the upper basin, whilst the former is 
more conspicuous in the Kemchik. Amongst the reindeer- 
tribes the hair was mostly black, straight, and rather fine ; 
but light, and even auburn, hair was common. This was 


especially noticeable amongst the children, the per- 
centage of adults with auburn hair being considerably 
smaller. The Kemchik tribes were, on the other hand, 
dark, of taller build, with very high cheek-bones ; and, 
according to Klementz, they can be always easily dis- 
tinguished from their kinsmen of the upper basin. 

The existence of auburn and fair hair amongst these 
people is a fact of exceptional interest, in point of view 
of proving or disproving the much-discussed question as 
to what part environment can play in modifying racial 
characteristics. Our observations only amount to placing 
on record another instance of the presumable modifica- 
tion of type by environment, a theory of which Professor 
Ridgeway of Cambridge is so keen an exponent. I am 
here stating the case — for and against — as suggested to 
me by criticisms which Professor Ridgeway has been 
kind enough to make. To put it shortly — the Finns, 
who are kinsfolk of the Uriankhai; have become a tall, 
fair race in their northern home ; the recent discovery, 
also, of " blond " * Eskimo on the Arctic Coast of North 
America is another instance of the supposed effect of 
environment in producing this characteristic. Of course, 
the first conclusion one jumps to is that these charac- 
teristics are due to outside influence, such as the Siberian 
trader in the case of the Uriankhai and a lost Norse 
colony in the instance of the Eskimo, as Stefansson — 
their discoverer — thinks them to be. Amongst the Urian- 
khai, at any rate, it is a remarkable fact that the largest 
proportion of the blond type exist amongst the reindeer- 
keeping section, who are the least touched by outside 

1 I use the term " blond " on the strength of Stefansson's statement 
that out of six to eight hundred individuals, about 50 per cent, have 
*' blond " or light brown eyebrows, and many have fair beards and blue eyes. 


influences, and are of the most primitive stock ; whilst 
the other Uriankhai who are in easier communication 
and contact with foreigners do not show this tendency 
to blondness. 

It is also of significance that this section (the reindeer 
Uriankhai) live at a higher altitude than the rest. Taking 
into consideration, therefore, the fact that altitude acts 
like latitude in determining physical characteristics, we 
have an additional reason for reindeer-keepers possessing 
a greater percentage of the blond type than the Urian- 
khai who live at lower altitudes, and an additional proof 
in support of the theory. As has been pointed out else- 
where, the Upper Yenisei basin, although situated 
in Latitude 52 , has, owing to its high altitude, 
the conditions of, say, Latitude 64 — altitude com- 
pensating for latitude — and thus the reindeer-keeping 
Uriankhai live under almost the same conditions as the 

On the other hand, we know that a foreign element 
does come in contact with the Uriankhai, and the sus- 
picion of foreign visitors, to whom the existing blond- 
ness may be due, is added to by the fact of the presence 
of certain diseases. Yet, in spite of all other pro- 
positions, might not these characteristics be due to the 
influence of the ancient Uigurs, with their " light hair 
and blue eyes," as described by the Chinese annalists of 
that period ? 

Both men and women grow their hair fairly long, the 
women wearing it in two or three plaits and the men 
dressing it in the form of a pig-tail behind, but shaving 
the fore-part of the head. Apart from this the Uriankhai 
is remarkably hairless. He does occasionally grow a small 
moustache, and still more rarely cultivates a straggling 



beard. In these ways he resembles the Mongol type 
rather than any other. 

The Uriankhai dresses almost entirely in skins, except 
during the heat of summer, when he puts on a loose 
garment such as all Chinamen wear, made of blue material 
traded from the Chinese merchants. This is a recent 
innovation, and is the only garment he wears not typical 
of the Uriankhai. In cold weather this garment would 
be replaced by a heavy coat of sheep or roe skin, worn 
with the roughly tanned leather outside, and edged with 
a black velvet band. Their foot-gear is very peculiar, 
as it resembles almost exactly that of the Eskimo, 
namely, a long soft boot made of well-tanned furs. These 
boots are made of many separate pieces of fur, the leg- 
skins of roe-deer or of musk-deer being a favourite 
material. The Uriankhai wears on his head either a 
little conical fur-hat or a head-gear which, so far as I can 
ascertain, is quite peculiar to these people. This con- 
sists of a cap made of black astrakhan, with fur inside 
and coloured cloth on the outside, with a couple of tails 
of blue and red material hanging down at the back. 
This is the most common head-gear, even in summer, 
throughout the Uriankhai territory ; but we never met 
with it beyond the borders of the basin. A leather belt 
round the waist, with a Russian-traded knife, a Mongol 
flint-and-steel, and a Chinese pipe completed his outfit ; 
these, with a Buddhist charm hung round his neck, leave 
him ready to make his way through the Uriankhai world. 
When he wears out a garment he hunts for skins, or 
exchanges a fur or two for a new one. When his pouch 
is empty he borrows tobacco off the nearest trader until 
he has success in the forest, and in the same way he 
stocks his tent with the few requirements necessary to 


him. The young girls dress almost exactly like the men, 
but married women wear garments longer and looser 
in make. 

The extraordinary simplicity of these reindeer-keepers 
is best shown by the type of food with which they 
find it possible to support life. In summer reindeer- 
milk is the staple diet, supplemented by the roots of a 
herb called Kandic, — a liliaceous plant which they dig 
up with hoes in the forests. In winter they live on the 
powdered roots of this herb and on the salted meat of the 
game they killed in the previous autumn. Reindeer-meat 
is a rare delicacy, the killing of the beasts being considered 
an extravagance as long as there is wild game to be 
found. From the traders they buy tea, and, if able to 
afford it, sugar and a little wheat-flour. The food of the 
other tribes consists of mares'-milk, — or " kummis," 
cows'-milk, cheese, and mutton, according to the produce 
of their herds. They mildly indulge in smoking and 
snuff-taking, though the desire for an intoxicant is as 
strong in the Uriankhai as amongst the Mongols. Spirit 
is made out of fermented mares'-milk by a crude means 
of distillation. The cost and trouble of this method of 
distillation, however, forbids many from indulging in 
these spirits, and so far the race has been little affected. 
But, given the wholesale introduction of strong drink 
by traders, the Uriankhai would undoubtedly succumb. 
This risk of deterioration is increased by the prevalence 
of nameless diseases which are obviously deeply rooted 
in the race. 

On account of the poverty and simplicity of the 
Uriankhai, Russian merchants find small scope for trade 
and barter. A people who themselves make all that 
they need, and have no desire to better themselves, are 


of no use to those searching for good markets. As before 
mentioned, birch-bark is used for the manufacture of 
all vessels, and camp-gear ; and what is not bark is 
skin. The women are wonderfully skilful at dressing 
the hides. With the aid of milk and a wooden-toothed 
implement they work the skin until it becomes as soft 
and as fine as if it were tanned under the most scientific 
methods. The tents are generally full of roe-deer skins 
prepared ready for making up into coats, or reindeer- 
hides for saddlery and mats, and of wapiti- or moose- 
skins used for harness and camp-gear, and various other 
furs for trading purposes. The only articles of foreign 
make used by the reindeer-keepers are tea, blue cloth, 
tobacco, gunpowder, and an occasional iron cooking-pot 
or kettle. 

The land of the Uriankhai is a most wonderful fur- 
bearing country, and supplies them with a medium for 
barter and exchange, without which they would be in a 
bad way. Hides, salt, wool, and butter, besides the sale 
of live stock, make up the list of produce sent out to 
Siberia from the country of the Uriankhai. Salt, of 
which there are large deposits, comes from the southern 
slopes of the Tannu-olu, north of the Ubsa Lake. 
Adrianoff estimated the export at 15,000 poods (1 pood = 
36 lb.) at the cost of a rouble a pood. Gold, which 
must be included in the list of the riches of this region, 
does not materially affect the Uriankhai, though the 
Russians who work the mines may employ a certain 
amount of Uriankhai labour. If, in the future, the 
native Uriankhai are capable and willing, there may be 
a great demand for their labour at a good wage. 

There are many interesting facts in connexion with 
the ordinary domestic family life of the Uriankhai. They 


show, for instance, much appreciation of their women, 
partly for the reason that they are not very numerous, 
but more especially on account of the great desire they 
have to possess children. The women do most of the 
home work, it is true ; but the men, in their turn, take 
over all the responsibility for the misdeeds of their wives ! 
Chalon mentions the incident of a man being bastinadoed 
in the presence of his wife until she confessed to the felony 
she had committed ! The universal desire for children 
shows that their upkeep presents no anxiety to these 
forest-dwellers ; more mouths to feed is no burden to 
them, so long as they can ensure the continuation of 
their families. This desire is principally for boys ; girls 
are not needed in the same degree, the custom of the 
country being that, on the death of the father, the pro- 
perty is divided amongst all members of the family 
equally. A number of girls in a family causes, to that 
family, not only loss of the name, but also the loss of 
a certain amount of property. The wish for a number 
of boys also results from the desire of these Buddhist 
parents to be able to give one or more of their offspring 
to the Lamaism. 

The daily labour and the struggle for existence is 
not severe enough to exclude amusement from the life of 
an Uriankhai. Although of melancholy disposition, he 
occasionally indulges in music, which represents no doubt 
an outward expression of himself. He sings, for in- 
instance, and plays a flute, not by breathing out, but by 
drawing in, his breath, the results being most mournful 
and pathetic. His special accomplishment is an imi- 
tation of the bag-pipes, and besides this, the witch- 
doctors' drums and trumpets, and a curious two-stringed 
violin, complete the list of his musical methods. The 


Uriankhai music is probably of special interest to the 
ethnologist, being peculiar to these people, and filled 
with the melancholy of the race. Amongst the Mongols 
we never heard any music resembling it. 

The Uriankhai has no artistic sense as far as we 
could see; though the wood-carvings and the rock- 
drawings may possess some originality. These carvings 
were used to adorn the little obos, or shrines, where 
it was the custom to place offerings to those gods who 
protected the herds, or who were themselves the special 
guardian-spirits of the hunters. We recognized camels, 
reindeer, cows, sheep, deer, sable, and beavers. The 
figures carved in wood were apparently original in con- 
ception, if somewhat crude in design ; they were of great 
interest as an example of true Uriankhai work. Other 
patterns, such as those on the furniture of the temples, 
on the banners, on the musical instruments, on the 
lamas' vestments, and on all uniforms worn by the chief 
men, were of Mongol or Chinese origin. 

With ample spare time at their disposal, it is curious 
to note that the Uriankhai have learnt no other form 
of amusement beyond that of horse-racing and wrestling 
amongst themselves. These pastimes they have acquired 
from the Mongols, and they are practised in the basin 
only at places where considerable Mongol or Buddhist 
influence exists. The reindeer-keepers do not indulge 
in such sports, unless it be on the occasion of their 
annual visits to the Kurias with the object of attending 
a religious ceremony, this serving as the occasion for a 
kind of fair or festival. 

Miller and Price witnessed such a wrestling-match 
at the termination of a religious ceremony, held by the 
Toji tribe on the upper Bei-Kem steppe, a description 


of which will well compare with Mr. Campbell's account 
of a similar match seen by him in Mongolia. Miller 
mentions that, at the close of a free meal provided for 
those attending the ceremony, " a dozen of the younger 
men stripped to their loin-cloths and began at once to 
wrestle. The two competitors advanced into the ring 
with leaps and bounds, whilst their ' seconds ' held a 
hand in the air. ... It resembled a ' catch as catch 
can ' style of wrestling, it being the game to seize any 
part of the body. At the close of the bout the victor 
performed a curious sort of dance round the ring, slap- 
ping first his thighs and then the ground with his hands. 
After prostrating himself before the holy mountain, he 
received a prize of cheese from the hands of the Noyon 
and the head lama; this, after tasting, he magnani- 
mously threw to the crowd, much to the enjoyment of the 
small children who scrambled for it." 

Campbell witnessed wrestling-matches on the occasion 
of the Mongolian " Derby," the wrestlers trying their 
skill during the time the race was in progress. " It was 
always a layman against a lama," he writes, " a 
tournament of Church versus State, and the sympathies 
of the onlooker usually sided with his own representative. 
Kicking was in order, and most of the wrestling was a 
mere exhibition of force ; but now and then a dexterous 
trick showed long practice or great quickness. ... In 
the majority of cases the bout began by an orthodox 
grip, neck to neck, and shoulder to shoulder, and ended 
by a trip or a violent throw. The comical feature of 
the contests was the preliminary challenge. Each, as 
he emerged from the dressing-tent and came in sight of 
the ' gegan ' (local chieftain) brought himself by a 
series of standing-jumps to the pavilion, sprang as high 





in the air as he could, bowed low with a smack of the 
hands to the ground, followed this by a couple of high 
springs, turned round and leaped into a minatory posi- 
tion in the centre of the plot, where he waited until his 
adversary had accomplished a similar performance/ ' 
After the bout " the victor, by a fresh series of leaps, 
accompanied by whoops, presented himself once more 
to the ' gegan/ prostrated himself, was invested with 
his hat, and given a double handful of cheese-scraps, 
which he partly ate and partly scattered amongst the 
onlookers.' ' 

A remarkable and interesting performance, a sur- 
vival, no doubt, of many ancient tests of strength and 
valour which the Mongols must have revelled in, during 
the palmy days of their greatness. One point is especi- 
ally noteworthy in these competitions between Church 
and State, namely, that the results usually end in an 
easy victory for the Church, which seems to prove that 
the lamas are the strongest and best-developed, and 
yet, curiously enough, in the influence of lamaism we 
look for the cause of Mongol decadence. 

The life-history of the reindeer-keeper is written in 
the herding of his beasts and in hunting, these pursuits 
occupying his whole time when not lazily lounging in 
his tent ; and, as he makes his wife and children carry 
out, not only most of the camp-work, but also help him 
with the care of the herds, the owner of a tepee in the 
Upper Yenisei basin has a very good time of it ! In 
hunting, however, he finds a real scope for his trained 
skill, and in expert knowledge of forest-lore he is prob- 
ably unsurpassed. It is no uncommon sight to see a 
couple of small boys, not exceeding fourteen years of 
age, start off from camp on a hunt extending over a 
I— 15 


period of several days. Mounted on their small, wiry 
horses, they ride off into the forest, having nothing with 
them but the clothes they wear, their long guns across 
their backs, and a skin of fermented reindeer or mare's 
milk attached to their saddles. 

The guns they use are the ordinary long-barrelled 
muzzle-loaders, such as are used everywhere on the out- 
skirts of the Chinese Empire ; but they differ from most 
guns that we have seen elsewhere, in the remarkably long 
forks attached to the fore-part of the barrel as a sup- 
port. All the native hunters of Central Asia use sup- 
ports of this kind, but usually on a smaller scale. We 
imagine that the length of those used by the Uriankhai 
is necessitated by the heavy undergrowth over which 
they have to shoot. Dressed in dirty leather clothes of 
a neutral tint, with head bound up in an old handkerchief 
and soft fur moccasins on his feet, the Uriankhai 
hunter creeps through the forest with as little noise and 
as little show as does the game which he is hunting. 
To this kind of life he has been inured from youth ; he 
is as much at home in the taiga as he is in a tepee. 
His unequalled skill as a hunter is due to his depend- 
ence upon wild game, not only for his meat-supply, 
but also for his clothes, the produce of the reindeer 
supplementing this requirement and supplying trans- 

Before the importation of firearms the Uriankhai 
made good use of the bow ; but bows and arrows have 
now died out, and we found difficulty in obtaining a 
specimen of these weapons, which the hunters used in 
earlier days for the killing of game. They must, indeed, have 
been well skilled in wood-craft if they succeeded in stalk- 
ing such large game as moose and wapiti in dense jungle, 


for to slay such with arrows is a fine achievement. The 
bows were about four feet in length, and were made of 
a single broad piece of spruce. The method of freeing 
the arrows was peculiar, approaching as it did that of 
a crossbow in method, the string being kept by a support 
at a greater tension than a man could pull, and the 
arrow being fired off by the pressing of a kind of 

The hunting of large game is not the chief ambition 
of the forest-dweller ; his great desire is to procure plenty 
of skins and meat for his own use, and furs for the pur- 
poses of trade. Roe-deer form his chief meat-supply, 
musk-deer give him not only good skins, for we saw 
bags and gun-covers most beautifully made of the leg- 
skins of musk-deer, but also supply him with musk 
to sell at a high profit. Moose and wapiti tempt him 
on account of the abundance of meat they provide, and 
the great value attached to the soft horns of the stags, 
as a marketable product for purposes of trade with 
China. The wapiti he either shoots during the summer 
when the horns are in velvet, or he traps them during 
the winter in pitfalls, attracting them thither with salt. 
The wapiti are kept alive and passed on to the Russian 
settlements, where a business is made of keeping stags 
in enclosures for the sake of the yearly tribute paid by 
their horns. 

Apart from these his quarry consists entirely of 
fur-bearing animals ; these he hunts chiefly in the 
early winter, using guns and dogs rather than traps. 
The dogs we saw in the Uriankhai encampments 
were of a peculiar breed, and were said to be remark- 
able for their hunting capacities. They were lean, 
under-sized animals of the lurcher type, with prick- 


ears and very pointed noses. Nearly every tent had 
one tied up outside, and we can vouch for them being 
excellent watch-dogs. With these dogs the hunters 
track the sable, marten, fox, lynx, and squirrel, until 
they run them to ground or tree them, when they are 
easily killed either with guns or by digging them out. 
Uriankhai fur-hunters generally go in small parties and 
divide the spoils. Centuries of this kind of life has 
made them adepts — there is no waste of time or labour. 

Furs must be procured for sale, and for tribute ; 
so long as there is a demand the Uriankhai procure 
them. The Chinese still demand that their taxes 
should be paid, in part at least, in nine sorts of furs, 
namely, lynx, otter, sable, fox, squirrel, marten, wolf, 
glutton, and snow-leopard. This is the survival of 
an old custom, by thus demanding furs the officials 
took their share of the spoil without much trouble, for 
furs, which were held in great value in Pekin, repre- 
sented comparatively nothing to the rough forest- 
dwellers. Mares also form an item in the list of the pro- 
ducts of the country which are acceptable for the paying 
of tribute, cream-coloured mares of certain localities 
being in great demand amongst the Chinese officials. 

Besides the above-mentioned animals there is still 
another species inhabiting the basin worthy of record, 
namely the beaver, for its presence completes the list 
of the northern fauna extending thus far southwards. 
A few beavers still exist in the upper tributaries of the 
Bei-Kem; but they are very rare, and their skins are 
seldom brought down to the markets. In old days they 
were mentioned as being included in a tribute sent by 
the Khan of the Ubsa region, then paramount chief 
of the Uriankhai tribes, to the Czar of Russia. We read 





of " a hundred sables and two beavers " being on the 

Although hunters and trappers, the Uriankhai are 
no fishermen ; the wealth of the fisheries which surround 
their homes remains neglected and almost unused except 
by the " Lake people," as a small section of the Toji 
tribe are called. Fishing is never adopted amongst 
them as a profession, although of late years a few am- 
bitious Uriankhai have taken to fishing in the Toji Kul 
and trading their hauls to the Siberian settlers. They 
are usually quite content to catch a few fish for their 
own use in the backwaters and small tributaries, by the 
help of nets made of horse-hair. 

This indifference to fishing may be the reason why 
the Uriankhai have no skill as watermen ; it is a peculiar 
fact in the life-history of these people that, although 
living in a land of lakes and rivers, and having constant 
need of water-transport, they have never yet gone so far 
as to devise a boat, and, while adepts in the use of 
birch-bark, have never attempted to construct a canoe 
of this material. The Uriankhai undertakes great 
risk when he ventures on to the water-ways, or when 
necessity forces him unwillingly to cross a river. For 
occasional fishing expeditions on the lake, or for the con- 
veyance of merchandise downstream, he is in the habit 
of constructing small rafts. 

We remember encountering an old Uriankhai on a 
raft on the Bei-Kem as we drifted down the river ; 
this raft was a very small one, which he paddled and 
guided with a single oar ; his cargo consisted of a bale of 
hides. As we allowed him to tie up his raft alongside 
of ours and to continue in our company, he sang us 
melancholy songs in appreciation ; drawing in his 


breath to the full, he made a sound far down in his throat — 
by slowly letting out his breath — resembling that of 
bagpipes. This is a custom peculiar to the Uriankhai, 
the nature of the sound produced being not only im- 
pressive but strangely in accordance with their somewhat 
melancholy character. 

For transporting baggage across the rivers, the Urian- 
khai use their horses to tow the rafts. With no harness but 
a rope passed through a loop tied in the horse's tail, one 
end of which rope is fastened to the raft and the other 
held in the hand, the Uriankhai urges his horse across 
the river. If the horse be in danger of drowning, the rope 
can be easily released and the horse set free ; if the horse 
prove unwilling to take the right direction, the Urian- 
khai cleverly guides him by means of a rein attached to 
a long pole. The method is crude, but highly successful. 
A raft can be rapidly constructed on any occasion, and 
horses are always to hand. For ordinary river-crossings 
the natives are accustomed to swim beside their horses, 
guiding them, and at the same time aiding them- 
selves by gently holding on to their mane or by their 

The herding of the reindeer occupies the remainder 
of the time which the men of this tribe devote to work, 
for the herds form the chief item in the domestic economy 
of the encampments. It is really a wonderful sight 
to see these beasts moving about amongst the tents 
or over the surrounding meadows. They are free to 
wander where they like, and are often away for days 
without returning to their owner's tent, which they 
eventually always do. They are remarkably tame, even 
for reindeer. We were frequently disturbed by the ropes 
of our tents being pulled by a too friendly reindeer, and 

Brown variety. 


White variety. 


the upsetting by chance of some salt belonging to our 
baggage attracted so large a number that we found 
them a trouble to get rid of. For salt they have a very 
keen desire, keener than I have noticed in other animals ; 
here it is a common sight at evening to see the women 
feeding their pet deer with salt out of little leather bags, 
as they come home to the tents for the night. 

The owners mark their beasts by cutting holes 
in the ears, and disfigure the older ones possessing large 
horns by cutting the antlers off short, in order to facilitate 
their passing through the dense forest. According to 
Miller's investigation : — 

" At the time of our visit the horns were all in 
velvet, yet they were advanced enough for us to judge 
that some of the deer would later on carry remarkably 
fine horns. The horns are not free from velvet until 
the end of August, and are shed in March. The type of 
horn was rather thick and short, with a large palmation, 
and many points/ ' In size the beasts were large and 
heavy, as compared with the Norwegian reindeer. This 
is also the case with other Siberian breeds, such as the 
Tunguse, which have been described as finer than those 
owned by the Laplanders. 1 

"We noted that the herds were, at the end of June, 
composed of a strange mixture of beasts of two varieties 
of colour, white and greyish brown, the latter predominat- 
ing. As there were both white and greyish brown indi- 
viduals of every age and sex to be seen, we are inclined 

1 "The measurements of a five-year-old male, of the brown type, 
were : height at shoulder 3 ft. 6 in., length of horn 27 in., girth above 
brow-antler 5 J in. Number of points about thirty when free from velvet. 
Another male of the brown type measured 3 ft. 5 in. at the shoulder, 
whilst a fine specimen of the white type aged about nine years was 3 ft. 8£ in. 
at the shoulder. 


to believe the natives, who said that there were two 
distinct varieties. Whether or not these two varieties 
breed true remains to be proved, but we never saw any 
that appeared to be crosses. The white breed is the 
more highly prized, and is the larger and stronger beast. 
In other reindeer lands, such as Norway, I can find no 
record of the existence of a white breed ; but there are 
certain individual cases of variation in which a reindeer 
may be pure white. For instance, Du Chaillu, in The 
Land of the Long Night, roughly describes the appearance 
of a herd of domesticated Lapland reindeer in winter : 
* The hair of the majority of the reindeer was grey, 
very coarse and thick, and almost white under the belly. 
Some of the animals in the herd were white/ Certainly 
they are known in the far north of Siberia, for in the 
Samoyede folk-lore there is often mentioned the ( milk- 
white reindeer.' 

"The wild reindeer seen on the Syansk Range at the 
head-waters of the Chapsa appeared to have a very dark 
brown, — almost black — face ; neck and body was almost 
pure white, turning to brown on the flanks, and with a 
dark line down the back. Fore-legs dark brown in 
front, otherwise white ; the hind-legs were lighter brown 
in front. This specimen was undoubtedly changing 
from winter to summer coat. All the bushes where he 
had been feeding and resting were covered with white 
hairs. In full winter-coat he would probably be pure 
white, as in the white domesticated breed. At the time 
I saw him he was in an intermediary stage. His face 
and legs, being the first to change, had already assumed 
the dark summer colour, whilst the white winter-hair 
still remained on the body and covered the darker coat 
underneath it. Judging by this solitary specimen, it 


would appear that the wild reindeer change into summer- 
coat at an earlier date than those in domestication. 
In July his long winter-coat has given place to the follow- 
ing : face almost black, neck white, body grey-brown, 
legs very dark brown in front, insides of legs and belly 
white. This summer colouration would also apply to 
the white domesticated breed. In fact, it is chiefly from 
the appearance of some individuals of the latter in June, 
when patches of the short summer-hair were visible where 
the shaggy winter-coat had fallen off, that I have formed 
my opinion. The dark type would be in their summer- 
coat, dark brown on the body, grey-brown on the neck, 
and almost black on the face and front of the legs. 

"If my estimation of the summer colouration of the 
two types be correct, they differ far less at that season 
than in the winter, though even then the light type, 
with its white neck and brown-grey body, would be 
considerably lighter. It is impossible to guarantee the 
accuracy of these descriptions of the colour of the rein- 
deer, owing to seeing them at the very worst season of 
the year. Not till complete specimens in full summer- 
coat, and with fully developed horns, have been obtained 
will it be possible to ascertain in what characteristics, if 
any, the Syansk reindeer differ from those of North 

''The habitat of the wild Syansk reindeer differs very 
considerably from that of their northern cousins. The 
latter roam over the vast mossy tundras practically 
at sea-level, where nothing grows in the shape of timber 
except stunted birch, and perhaps occasional patches of 
wind-blown pines at the southern limit of their range. 
The former are to be found about the tops of the moun- 
tains at an altitude of from 6,000 to 8,000 ft. During the 


summer months they are exceedingly hard to find, living, 
as they do, on the upper edge of the timber, amongst 
cedar and rhododendron scrub. At the approach of 
winter, when the snow, caught amongst the dense 
growth, lies to a depth of several feet, they move up on 
to the open tops, which are blown almost clear of snow. 
At this season they must subsist entirely on reindeer 
moss, which grows there in abundance. 

" In their habitat, therefore, the Syansk reindeer differ 
from those of Arctic Siberia (Rangifer tarandus sibiricus) 
in the same way that the mountain caribou (Rangifer 
tarandus osborni) of the upper waters of the Yukon 
differs from the Barren-ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus 
arcticus) of Northern Canada. Although we saw only 
one wild reindeer on the upper Chapsa River, there was 
ample proof, in the shape of droppings and well-worn 
paths, that there must have been many more concealed 
along the edge of the forest. They are probably more 
numerous along the range to the east, there being a 
larger area of suitable country in that direction.' ' 

In July the women of the encampments were busy 
with the care of the young reindeer, which seemed to need 
constant attention. All day the little beasts were tied 
up under the shade of the larch-trees, or under specially 
constructed booths near the tents. They were fastened 
by a cord round the neck to a peg in the ground and 
arranged in rows to enable the parents to find them 
easily on their return, and to lie down for the night beside 
their offspring. The older beasts seemed to suffer much 
from the heat, and never started out to feed until late 
in the day, which they partly spent lying panting under 
the shade of the forest. These required very little care, 
and for this reason reindeer appear to be amongst 



MS**; \ 


the most easily managed domesticated beasts in the 

The most important use the Uriankhai make of their 
reindeer is for transport purposes. All their migrations 
are carried out with the sole object of finding suitable 
pasture for their herds, and it is these very herds that 
supply the transport, for even if they travel slowly 
they go far. In the high country horses would be at 
a complete disadvantage, both on account of the soft 
ground and of the scarcity of grass, but the reindeer is 
there in his true element. The Uriankhai are thus able 
to traverse great areas of country, which would other- 
wise be difficult of access. When the hunters start off 
to hunt in the autumn they ride their deer, and the- 
same transport is used to convey their families and 
households down to their winter quarters. The rolls of 
birch-bark and their other belongings do not consti- 
tute heavy or bulky loads, and with small packs the 
reindeer can move easily along the narrow forest-paths. 

The women and children ride as well as the men ; 
it is an everyday sight to see a small boy leap on to any 
unsaddled reindeer near at hand, and pace off to the 
other end of the encampment to find a friend or to see 
some fun that is in progress. No bridle or bit is used 
to guide the beast ; only a rough halter controls him. 
For travelling purposes a pad of roughly tanned skins, 
a wooden saddle, and stirrups make riding more com- 
fortable for the natives; but we found these wooden 
saddles considerably worse to sit on than a bare back. 

Besides their use as transport animals and for riding 
purposes, the reindeer supply their owners with milk 
and occasionally with meat. The milk is very rich, 
and during the summer months forms the chief article 


of diet. When we exhibited a sample of our " trade- 
goods," such as needles, pins, tobacco, and tea, we were 
kept supplied during our stay with more milk than we 
needed ; but, as I have described elsewhere, the purchase 
of a whole beast was a very different matter, the natives 
showing themselves to be so unwilling to part with a 
full-grown male that it proved to us the great value 
which they attached to them as stock. 1 The Uriankhai 
probably never kill for meat, except under exception- 
al circumstances. The neighbourhood of their homes 
abounds in wild game, easily killed at less cost and 
trouble than that entailed by breeding and rearing the 
reindeer. On the open lands it is different ; on the steppes, 
where no such game supplies the demand for meat, the 
nomads are dependent upon the produce of their herds, 
and either exist meagrely on milk and cheese, or, if rich 
enough, on such meat as the flocks and herds supply. 

Special importance is attached to these differences 
between the reindeer-keeping Uriankhai — whom I have 
just described — and the other tribes inhabiting the rest 
of the Upper Yeneisi basin, who live in very different 
surroundings and under very different conditions. All 
other Uriankhai, apart from the reindeer-keepers, can 
be classed together. Whether we are describing the 
other section of the Toji tribes in the far east, or the 
Kemchik people in the west, certain conditions under 
which they live tend to make them all very alike in 
customs and character. The most potent influence in 
causing this resemblance is environment. There is, for 
instance, no necessity for them to move into the high 

1 It is possible that there is a difficulty about breeding, for a recent 
traveller (Mr. Bassett Digby) amongst the Tunguses says that the reindeer 
do not breed well so far south, and that the natives import the best animals 
from the far north, and pay as much as £6 per head. 


country in summer, nor is there much need for them to 
penetrate into the forests, for they can herd their horses, 
cattle, sheep, and goats on the open pastures in the lower 
valleys. On this account we find them distributed in 
the main valleys, such as the Upper Bei-Kem, where fine 
prairie-lands and open larch-groves make a shepherds' 
paradise, and also in all the steppe-country throughout 
the central and western basin. 

An open country, which is easily accessible, has the 
effect of making these people less shy and more am- 
bitious, with an eye to bettering themselves. They 
have come in touch with the outside world and have felt 
the influence of people greater than themselves. Their 
homes are Mongol in type, their dress half Chinese ; they 
might be possessors of Russian cooking-utensils and 
they know of Urga — their religious centre — and Siberia, 
where their furs are sold. Intercourse with the world 
beyond their remote basin has led to a greater infusion 
of Mongol blood, which accounts for their divergence in 
type from their kinsmen of the upper basin. Thus the 
type of non-reindeer-keeping Uriankhai, especially of 
those of the far western parts of the basin, is distinctly 
more Mongol than that of the true forest-dwellers. 

These non-reindeer-keeping Uriankhai, who, in point 
of fact, form the main bulk of the population, live a 
semi-nomadic life, herding horses, cattle, sheep, goats, 
and a few camels. The richness of the pasture in the east 
necessitates little movement, but in the central basin 
the land is poorer and migration consequently more 
frequent. All these people use the ordinary felt yurts 
as dwelling-places, a type of dwelling probably intro- 
duced amongst them by the Mongols. The dome- 
shaped tent made of laths of wood and trellis-work, 


covered with sheets of heavy felt, is too well known to 
need description ; for these Uriankhai yurts resemble 
all others in Central Asia, except that they are small, 
dirty, and badly made, — poor reproductions, indeed, of 
the magnificent abodes of the wealthy Kirei, or the 
Kirghiz nomads of the Altai and Tian Shan pastures. 
Yet some of these Uriankhai are rich in herds, and it 
can only be the result of their uncleanly habits and 
utter disregard of comfort which dooms them for ever 
to live in this somewhat degrading manner. All the 
Mongols and Kalmuks have the same disregard for 
cleanliness, their encampments forming a great contrast 
to those of the spic-and-span Mohammedan nomads. How 
far these habits may be influenced by their religious 
beliefs is a question open to discussion elsewhere. 

In contrast to the unmarketable possessions of reindeer- 
herdsmen, the flocks and herds of the other Uriankhai 
provide a certain surplus for trade. There appears to 
be an export of butter, and the sale of horses, cattle, 
and sheep is possible, and probable, owing to the proxi- 
mity of the Siberian towns. Hides and wool make up 
the list of marketable products. The native sheep are 
covered with fine, silky wool, and the " astrakhan " 
supplied by the lambs commands a good price. The 
cattle of the upper basin are small, short-horned beasts, 
but there exists a very good breed peculiar to the Kem- 
chik and Abakan steppes, which is especially adapted 
to those regions and deteriorates if removed to other 
pastures. The hides of these cattle fetch a very good 
price in Russian markets. 

The horse indigenous to the Uriankhai country is of 
Mongol origin. He is a small but well-built animal, 
rather thick-set, and capable of great endurance. An 


average pony stands about thirteen hands. The chief 
peculiarity is the heavy head and shoulders and the 
round muzzle. For deficiency in appearance the Urian- 
khai pony atones by living on practically nothing, 
requiring little care, and by being capable of enduring 
extremes of weather. With a peculiar amble he carries 
his rider the entire day without flagging. Great wealth 
in horses, however, has caused the native never to make 
use of the same steed for more than one day's journey 
without a change ; thus the native horses have no stay- 
ing powers after their first stage. White and cream- 
coloured animals are common ; we noticed many piebalds, 
and a great proportion of the animals had striped legs. 

The trouble caused by horse-flies and mosquitoes 
obliges the owners to seek for open pastures away from 
or above the forests during the summer's heat, yet, in 
spite of this, we found encampments with small herds of 
cattle and horses buried in the forests. Great trouble, how- 
ever, was taken to ensure their remaining undisturbed, 
by the building up of a circle of smoky fires around 
them. It is possible, however, that these particular 
people were carrying out a migration, and that the forest 
was not their usual haunt. On account of the mos- 
quitoes and flies, the natives kindly spare the animals 
the use of their tails, although they are in the habit of 
hog-maning all their horses, there being a considerable 
trade in horsehair with the Russian markets. 

The harness used by the horsemen is Mongol in 
character; we noted no peculiarities. The use of the 
lasso amongst the nomads interested us, however, and 
made us wonder whether the custom of roping horses 
originated in Asia. It is unlikely that it was introduced 
from elsewhere ; no other people in Asia, to our know- 


ledge, use the lasso, with the exception of the Mongols. 
In Mongolia, no doubt, in the earliest ages, primitive 
man first caught and domesticated the horse for his 
own use ; the knowledge and practice thus gained con- 
cerning the capture of wild horses, has been passed on 
to others by those tribes who spent more of their time 
on horseback than on foot. 

One other salient difference between the habits of 
these Uriankhai of the western basin and the eastern 
tribes is the fact that they practise agriculture, which 
necessarily enforces changed conditions of life. The 
natives who till the soil become semi-sedentary, although 
they are not yet actually domiciled in permanent 
dwellings. The Uriankhai of the central and western 
basin, who own and cultivate their lands, live in 
a manner approaching to the more advanced state 
of the Abakan Tartars. The semi-sedentary habits 
which they are slowly acquiring indicate an approach to 
a higher state of culture, and grant the possibility of 
the Uriankhai becoming in time a more useful and more 
capable race. This means, of course, that they are com- 
ing under the influence of a more intelligent people, and 
that, if they are not demoralized by contact with civiliza- 
tion, — if they are not ruined by the introduction of drink 
and disease, the Uriankhai may become a people. Fresh 
blood would be brought in, and, with the consequent 
greater traffic and facilities for trade and transport, 
the risk of deterioration would disappear. 

How closely environment is in touch with the mould- 
ing of the character and habits of the people is often being 
proved, but how great an effect environment has had 
upon the thoughts and ideas, and in shaping the earliest 
superstitious beliefs of a people, has yet to be shown. 




The Uriankhai make an interesting study of a people 
who live in dependence upon nature, and whose religious 
ideas appear to be based on a system of propitiation of 
the gods of nature forced by a craving to avoid harm at 
the hands of the evil spirits, and to obtain favours from 
the good ones. Their cult, which is called " Sham- 
manism, ,, or the Black Art, is now only practised by 
certain tribes in Siberia, and by the Uriankhai; but 
in old days all the tribes of Northern Asia, — Tunguse, 
Mongol, and Turki, — were without exception followers of 
the Shammanistic faith. In all cases, however, at the 
present day, Shammanism is practised under an outward 
show of newly introduced religions. 

In Siberia the Black Art has been largely de- 
stroyed by the introduction of Christianity, and is by 
law not allowed to be practised ; the Turki tribes have 
embraced Islam to such an extent that it is scarcely 
possible to find even a trace of Shammanism, whilst in 
the Uriankhai country Buddhism is the professed religion. 
Faith in the Shammanistic rites and ceremonies is, how- 
ever, so strongly ingrained in the people that it may still 
be considered to be their real belief. As a matter of fact, 
a study of the beliefs of these people show that they in- 
clude much higher ideals than the worship of the genii 
of nature under the guidance of a tyrannizing priesthood 
of Shammans. And we shall do well to look into their 
religious ideas, for these are no small influences in deter- 
mining the history and character of a people. To under- 
stand fully the Uriankhai beliefs, we must trace the 
stages of religious growth from Fetichism to Theism. 
By doing so we shall see the origin of the higher beliefs, 
and the early stages of man's attempts to recognize a 
superior power. 
I— 16 


In those earliest stages, primitive man believed that 
all natural objects had personalities of their own. They 
treated all natural objects or phenomena of the universe 
as supernatural, as if they were beings in whose hands 
the lives of men were but playthings. Every physical 
feature — every mountain, hill, or hollow, the swift rivers 
and the water -falls, the rain-shower and the snow-storm, 
thunder, lightning, and dew, the sun, moon, and stars, all 
— to the early searchers after knowledge — were living 
creatures, having minds and bodies of their own. These 
spirits were, of course, both good and bad, some of them 
apparently persistently harrying man and troubling him 
with disaster, others were good in helping and cheering 
him ; but all were to be feared, all were to be appeased 
by offerings, invoked for aid, propitiated in order to avert 
evil, or thanked for benefits received. Fear of offending 
the bad spirits, fear of not pleasing sufficiently the good 
ones, fear of the fact that, sooner or later, man falls into 
error, the god is angered, and man in consequence 
suffers death, it was fear that was the basis of the 
earliest stages of Totemism, or Nature-worship. This 
cult was universal amongst primitive races from Siberia 
to Patagonia, and from Lapland to Greece. All peoples 
seem to have passed through this stage, but there are 
few now left who remain instilled with the terror of the 
great god Pan. 

In the next stage the natural objects were not con- 
sidered alive in themselves, but were presided over by 
special deities, who were only approachable through the 
medium of Shammans, or priests. Hence the origin of 
the sacerdotal class. Shammanism, as this stage is 
generally called, is therefore an advance on ordinary 
Nature-worship, for deities were recognized. Later still, 


man gradually came to realize that there were not a great 
number of different gods, but that there was unity and 
harmony between the different natural elements, and 
this great force slowly evolved into the idea of one 
Supreme Being. But a remnant of the old idea of manr 
minor deities remained. These were impersonated by 
idols and images, in attempt to represent in man's image 
their vague ideas of the protecting spirits. 

Now, the Uriankhai present to us the strange case of 
a people whose religious ideas seem to be a mixture of 
these several grades of primitive beliefs, from pure 
Nature-worship to Idolatry and Theism. We have, as 
a basis, a remnant of true Nature or " Thing " worship, 
in the prevalence of the deification of natural objects, 
such as trees, mountains, etc. It is in this respect that 
the Uriankhai show, by their superstitions, how near 
they are to nature, and how strangely they have kept 
to the present day this oldest cult, in spite of an advance 
of ideas in other directions. As an example of the 
next stage in the evolution of religious belief, we have the 
presence of Shammans — a priesthood — in whose hands 
are all dealings with the supernatural and the next 
world. Idolatry is exemplified by the use the Uriankhai 
make of idols and images in representation of the minor 
deities, such as the guardian-spirits of the flocks ; and, 
strange to relate, by a form of ancestor-worship. The 
reverence of ancestors is generally to be found at the 
basis of most Asiatic beliefs. Ancestors are considered 
to act as intercessors in the next world, and the Sham- 
man priests have the power to call them up, and to apply 
to them for aid. Amongst the Uriankhai and other 
Shammanistic tribes the existence of ancestor-worship is 
found in many forms, as described in Chapter II. (p. 61). 


Above all this is a well-established belief in one Supreme 
Being, who is the God of Heaven and ruler over all things. 
I will now show in greater detail the extent to which 
pure Nature-worship is practised by the Uriankhai, for 
this is the real basis of his beliefs. Amongst a people 
living in the twilight of the dark, damp forests, isolated 
in remote, secluded valleys, shut off from the outside 
world, surrounded by — and dependent upon — nature, 
superstition is apt to run riot. The Uriankhai, in his 
simple and yet subtle belief, sees mystery and feels the 
supernatural on all sides. His attitude is scarcely to be 
wondered at. The mystery of the sodden, taiga-clothed 
hills, the dark, silent valleys, and the mountain-crags 
which toss their heights above the forest, fill him with 
awe and crowd his thoughts with dread. The howling 
wind is obviously a god in anger ; the swift-running 
river-gods hinder his crossing and jeopardize his life, 
the lonely summits of granite boulders — storm-riven and 
streaked with snow — are surely the thrones of gods, and 
not fit places for men. The record of such names as 
" Bogdo " — holy, " Khan " — Chief, as applied to moun- 
tains, show how greatly the Uriankhai and the Mongols 
venerate the superb, isolated snow-summits, which stand 
up like thrones of Kings on the wide plateaux. 

The rugged crags which rise above the forests in the 
Upper Yenisei basin are held by the Uriankhai in such 
awe, that he never on any occasion visits them ; he 
calls them " taiga," i.e. the wild — the unknown, — and 
looks upon them as the abode of spirits. The frequency 
of sudden storms, of thunder and lightning add to his 
nervousness. The terror of Pan is everywhere. The 
Uriankhai sees him in every tree, rock, and stone ; he hears 
him in the silence of the night and feels the closeness of 




his presence by day. Who is it who gives him suffering, 
if not an evil spirit ? Who is it who spoils his luck when 
hunting ? What is Chance but the interference of the 
genii ? A people who are absolutely dependent upon 
nature for all their wants naturally worship the hand that 
gives so freely, and thus we see that pure Nature-worship 
still keeps a strong hold on the minds of the people. 

A superstitious dread of the genii, both good and 
bad, makes the Uriankhai's great object in life to pro- 
pitiate the spirits, lest evil befall him. On every possible 
occasion the forest-dweller endeavours to keep on good 
terms with the evil spirits. Any danger encountered 
in the path, such as a river to ford, or a mountain to 
cross, in fact, any natural difficulty, is propitiated by 
votive offerings, with which the nature-worshipper hopes 
to pacify " Erlik Khan " — the evil one. Votive poles, 
covered with pieces of coloured rag, are to be seen every- 
where, and prove how necessary the Uriankhai finds it 
to show this respect, in order to ensure his peace of 
mind. In the reindeer-encampments we found small 
poles, from which dangled white rags, placed in front of 
every tent-door to scare away the demons of sickness. 
The reindeer-herds had other poles specially placed 
close to their resting-place, to guard them from harm. 
Never did we climb the summit of a single pass without 
finding it adorned with a cairn of stones, and innumerable 
rags of every colour attached to poles, or hung on the 

Obos are built at places where special attention 
is to be drawn to the sacredness of the spot ; we 
have seen these shrines in every part of the Yenisei 
Basin and in North-west Mongolia. So familiar are 
they, and so often are they the only signs of human 


agency in a wild and uninhabited region that the 
name " Obo " is often printed on our modern maps in 
regions possessing no other place-names. Many a desert 
waste is marked off into stages by obos built by zealous 
adherents to the practice of Nature-worship. It is a 
primitive attempt to do honour to the deities — an idea 
which has slowly germinated, with the growth of civiliza- 
tion and religious cult, into broader and more ambitious 
lines. In wild Mongolia, where men live in tents, the 
only attempts at building are these small temples, sacred 
to the worship of the deities ; as, in Europe, man's highest 
achievements in architecture are devoted to the service 
of his religious belief. 

In the forested regions we found the obos made of 
pine-branches and brushwood — looking from afar like 
huge, conical-shaped bonfires piled ready for lighting. 
Sometimes they were in the form of booths, made of 
branches, into which one had to crawl on all fours, the 
interior of which could only be seen through the means 
of striking a succession of matches. Those we entered 
were found either to contain offerings of food to the 
gods, or a sacred Buddhist picture, or innumerable 
wooden representations of the animals herded in the 
neighbourhood, such as sheep, cattle, or reindeer, of the 
beasts of the chase, and of fur-bearing animals. The 
obos serve, in fact, as a depository for the offerings to 
the spirits who guard the flocks, and to those gods sup- 
posed to grant good luck to the hunters. The custom 
of presenting wooden models of different domesticated 
animals may be a remnant of the ancient rites of sacri- 
fice, which were so common in all the earlier forms of 
worship. In old days the tribes were rich enough to 
afford the sacrifice of a certain number of their flocks 


In the Upper Yenisei basin. 



On the Mongolian plateau. 


and herds, but they certainly are not in a position to 
do so now. The only record we have of live sacrifice 
at the present day in this region is amongst the Buriats, 
who have yearly festivals when horses are sacrificed 
and feasted on. Certain details of these ceremonies as 
described by Professor Curtin, such as the locality — a 
hill-top — where they are held, and the wrestling- 
matches which take place after it, remind us of Urian- 
khai religious meetings which we witnessed. 

There are permanent obos besides the temporary 
residences of the god, and these are generally built over 
some venerated object. Chalon makes mention of a 
large obo at Cha-Kul which was built over a large dead 
tree- trunk, an especially sacred object, the subject of 
much veneration ; we too saw a pretentious array of 
votive poles in the same locality rigged up before a 
cave, which possessed rock-paintings of Buddhist origin. 

The obos are generally placed on hill-tops, which are 
looked upon as the chosen haunts of the gods. Good 
spirits are apt at times to change their home, and the 
ceremony carried out by the Uriankhai on the occasion 
of ^welcoming a god to his new home is of great interest. 
Miller and Price were lucky enough to witness such a 
festival in the Upper Bei-Kem region, and I quote 
Miller's ready description of the extraordinary scenes 
enacted by the priests and laymen on that occasion. 
The scene lay on a grassy hill-top, overlooking a 
wide panorama of prairie and larch-forest, situated on 
the left bank of the Upper Bei-Kem to the west of 
the Kuria which formed the religious centre of the 
Toji tribe. 

11 On the hill-top was a square log building with a 
conical roof, the whole of which was covered over with 


boughs of trees and larch-poles decorated with strips of 
white cloth. The entrance was by a double doorway. 
On the north and south sides were six similar, but 
smaller, conical-shaped obos, made of branches and 
brushwood and decorated with votive poles. The interior 
of the central obo was fitted with a low platform on 
which were placed four smaller ones — one above the 
other — and on the top of all was a pyramid of wood 
inscribed on all its faces with sacred writings. The plat- 
form was covered with presents and gifts intended as a 
welcome to the newly arriving god ; there were clay 
discs stamped with writings and images of Buddha. 
All the chief animals of the country, too, were depicted 
in wood, and food-offerings were prepared for the god, 
and the best ' kummis * was placed at his service in brass 

" The people now began to arrive, and from the lofty 
position overlooking a wide expanse of country we 
could see horsemen spurring from all points of the com- 
pass towards the sacred hill. The Noyon — or chief 
of the clan — with his retinue were early on the scene. 
Dressed in a silk robe, with a gilded hat on his head, 
he sat under the shade of an awning, especially erected 
outside the obo, and held a " durbar M as the clansmen 
arrived. There was much talking, drinking of ■ arak ' 
(spirit brewed from fermented milk), and exchanging of 
snuff-bottles, until a shout from the novices heralded 
the arrival of the head-lama, whose horse they led up the 
hill to the entrance of the shrine. He was quite an 
imposing-looking individual, with his clean-shaven head 
and terribly wrinkled face. 1 He made no appearance 
as regards his vestments ; for a high-priest he was even 

1 See page 224. 


See p. 249. 



disreputable, being clothed in a dirty old skin-coat 
boasting the remnants of fur-cuffs and collar, and he 
wore a skull-cap of the same material. 

" Meanwhile, some hundreds of natives had collected 
from all quarters, and, as the arak had begun to 
take effect, the shouting and laughing grew very loud. 
An amusing incident now occurred. A minor official, 
who had been despatched by the chief to ride with a 
message to a priest living at a distance, had promptly 
ridden off to the nearest encampment and there become 
intoxicated. He was captured, however, and was led 
up before the Noyon for punishment. After having his 
ears severely boxed, he was laid out on the ground and 
given twenty lashes with birch-sticks, borrowed for the 
occasion from the sacred obo. 

" After this diversion, which all present seemed 
thoroughly to enjoy, the religious ceremony began. The 
lamas seated themselves in order of rank, in two rows, 
facing each other, and the head lama took the top right- 
hand place. In the centre between the two rows was 
placed the cooked meat and bags of kummis which 
was to compose the feast after the ceremony. To the 
accompaniment of two gigantic brass horns — ten feet 
in length, cymbals, a drum, shell-horns — which emit 
the most mournful of music — and a flute-like instrument 
with a note like a bagpipe, the priests chanted their 
prayers and kept up a ' fully choral ' service for half 
an hour. 

"During that period, I suppose, the god had actually 
arrived at his new abode, for at the end of the service 
each member of the congregation in turn prostrated him- 
self and muttered prayers before the entrance of the 
obo ; then the concourse broke up and the whole congre- 


gation trooped off down the hill to enjoy themselves. 
The feast — the main attraction, no doubt, to the nomads 
who dwelt at a distance — now took place. Lamas and 
laymen lined up, each in their respective ranks, the 
Noyon heading the latter and the chief priest the former, 
whilst food in the shape of meat and kummis was 
distributed amongst them. A few women, hitherto ex- 
cluded from the ceremony, now made their appearance 
and sat behind the Noyon, but took no further part. 
After the feast there were wrestling-bouts between the 
young men, whilst the older folk continued to sit over 
their kummis and snuff-taking." 

This ceremony was a peculiar mixture of Shamman 
and Buddhist rites, and shows how mingled are the two 
in this strange community of partially converted Nature- 

So much for the presence of original Nature-worship 
amongst the Uriankhai. Now let us see how far 
Shammanism, i.e. the actual practice of Black Art 
by the priest, has got a hold over the people. At the 
outset it must be noted that this influence is very strong, 
in spite of tendencies such as the influence of Buddhism 
and the endeavours of civilization in Siberia to put a stop 
to the practices of the Shamman witch-doctors. The 
Shammans hold great influence over the people, their 
occult powers are still believed in, there being nothing 
in the introduced religions to take the place of their 
time-honoured institution. 

Great secrecy envelopes the cult, and the Shamman 
tribes do not care to let others know their ideas. The 
Shamman doctors themselves are more feared than 
loved by the people. The priesthood is hereditary, and 
the skill and magic is supposed to be transmitted from 


father to son or daughter, without any actual training. 
The Shammans hold the people in their power, for only 
through them can intercessions be made with the next 
world, only they can keep on good terms with the evil 
spirits, and their peculiar art alone is able to keep up 
the close communication between the living and the 
dead which is necessary for the veneration of ancestors. 
The priests make the sacrifices on the occasions of mis- 
fortune or death, conduct requests and prayers, are 
soothsayers, doctors, and weather-prophets, in fact, 
they run the superstitions of the people for their own 

Where pure original Shammanism is especially noticed, 
is in the domestic life of the Uriankhai. Buddhism is 
all very well as a profession ; the simple forest-dweller 
is only too glad to leave all such ritual in the hands of 
his educated superiors; but when demons of sickness 
torment his home and the shadow of death comes 
over a tepee, then the Uriankhai resorts to the black 
magic, and the practised hand of the witch-doctor is 
called in to battle with the evil spirits. Miller and Price 
were on one occasion the witnesses of a struggle of the 
Shamman doctor with some fell disease. 

It was night when they heard the sound of a muffled 
drum, 1 which warned them that a Shamman doctor was 
at work in a neighbouring tent, so, walking over to it, 
they pushed back the flap which formed the door, and 

1 The drum is probably the most original of all instruments used in 
religious ceremonies. In Shammanism the drum has an exceptional signific- 
ance. Of all the strange outfit and accoutrements of the witch-doctors, 
none are considered of any real value but the drum. Without it no cere- 
mony would be of any use. With the drum alone can the Shammans call 
up the departed spirits. It is the sign of rank of the Shamman priest, and 
is an heirloom handed down from father to son or daughter, together with 
the inherited skill or magic. 


watched the strangest of spectacles by the flickering 
light of a smoky fire. " Inside sat two men and a 
woman on either side of the tent, and at the far end, 
with his back towards us, stood the witch-doctor. He 
was dressed in a long buck-skin shirt, decorated with 
innumerable pieces of many - coloured rags, whilst 
down his back and from his arms down to his feet 
dangled strings of red, green, and white tape. Across 
the shoulders he bore two iron rods to which were 
attached innumerable pieces of metal. His drum was 
of wapiti-hide, and he beat it with a stout drumstick, 
the padded part of this being made of some rare fur. 
He faced a large piece of yellow cloth — decorated with 
many-coloured rags — which was hung up to the side of the 
tent. In his incantations he beat the drum incessantly, 
first on the right side, then on the left, and even behind 
his back — varying the strength and tone accordingly. 
Sometimes he droned a weird, low chant, swaying from 
side to side and shaking his shoulders so as to make the 
irons rattle. Then, changing his tactics, he became 
silent, but increased the violence of his gestures until 
convulsed with the intense strain ; his face became 
distorted, sweat ran off his brow, and in this frenzy he 
worked himself up into delirious madness, so much so 
that the strain became too great, and he dropped ex- 
hausted to the ground. One of the onlookers then took 
the opportunity of tightening the drum over the fire, and 
after a short rest the Shamman doctor set to work again, 
but his heavy breathing and occasional groans showed 
that he was still very exhausted." Evil spirits of sick- 
ness and disease are thus exorcised and driven out by 
the Shamman doctors, who may be either men or women. 
In the neighbourhood of Cha-Kul we witnessed a like 


A religious ceremony at the Chedan Kuria. 




ceremony in which a woman took the part of the witch- 

When death ensues the Uriankhai dispose of the 
corpse by exposing it on a hill-top, and leaving it to the 
wild animals. No form of burial is known to them. 
Their superstition teaches them that the man who has 
spent a good life is quickly devoured by birds and beasts 
of prey, but the others, who have not lived so well, have 
not this doubtful honour bestowed upon them. The 
" cemetery " is often marked by a white flag, which 
warns strangers not to approach too close when a 
Uriankhai of well-known bad character chances to have 
recently died, and been there laid to rest. 

Turning now to the most interesting part of Sham- 
manism, as practised in these regions, that of idolatry or 
anthropomorphism. There is obviously a strong sense 
in these people of attempting to represent to themselves, 
by idols and images, certain minor deities which they 
still hold in great reverence. The curious mixture of 
this idol- worship with a belief in a God of Heaven, which 
these same people profess, caught the attention of the 
earliest visitors to the Mongols and Southern Siberian 
tribes. For instance, Carpini notes that the Mongols 
" have certain idols of felt, imitating the human face, 
and having underneath the face something resembling 
teats ; these they place (in their yurts) on either side 
of the door. These they believe to be the guardians of 
the flocks, from whom they have the boons of milk and 
increase. Others they fabricate of bits of silk, and 
these are highly honoured ; . . . and whenever they 
begin to eat and drink, they first offer these idols a por- 
tion of their food and drink." 

The most important thing in the life of the nomads 


is the well-being of their flocks, and it is quite natural 
that the guardian-spirit of the herds should receive a 
special place of honour. Marco Polo relates the same 
fact, but adds the care of the children and the crops, as 
well as the guardianship of the herds, to the protecting 
powers of this idol. " They show him great worship 
and honour,' ' he says, " and every man hath a figure of 
him in his house, made of felt and cloth, and they also 
make in the same manner images of his wife and children. 
. . . And when they eat, they take the fat of the meat 
and grease the god's mouth withal, as well as the mouths 
of his wife and children. Then they take of the broth 
and sprinkle it before the door of the house ; and, that 
done, they deem that their god and his family have had 
their share of the dinner." 

Besides this they impersonate the " god of the chase," 
the next most important factor in the lives of these 
shepherd-hunters. This deity is represented by a roughly 
stuffed hare-skin, and may be seen hung up in the tent, 
close beside a modern Chinese picture of the Buddha, and 
amongst the other bric-a-brac which go to swell the 
strange collection of relics representing the mixed 
religious ideas of the present-day Shammanist. 

These minor deities are placed in a category by 
themselves, and called the Gods of the Earth ; but above 
all this primitive superstition and idolatry there is the 
certain belief in one supreme power over all nature. 
The Uriankhai, as well, I think, as all Shammanists, 
recognize a Great Spirit, whom they do not attempt to 
understand, and whom they call Tengri — the God of 
Heaven. Carpini says of the Mongol Shammanists that 
they " believe in one God, the Maker of all things . . . 
the distributor of good and evil in this world ; but 


worship Him not with prayers or praises or any kind of 
service/ ' Still more interesting is the fact that they 
make no attempt to impersonate this Creator. 

To the intensely devout Western missionaries, the 
Mongols in the thirteenth century seem to " differ from 
all nations of the world, for they do not boast of having 
any law warranted by God, as many other nations falsely 
do, but simply by some instinct or movement of nature, 
say that there is something sovereign above all the things 
of this world, and that there is a God." This is a most 
remarkable confession. " Simply by some instinct or 
movement of nature " means volumes. The Franciscan 
monk recognized the fact that these pagan barbarians 
had come to the conclusion, of their awn accord, " that 
there is a God." 

In these days the old beliefs are being gradually 
veneered over with (an almost enforced) Christianity in 
Siberia, and the most degraded form of Buddhism in 
Mongolia and the Uriankhai country. It is difficult to 
say how far these religions are influencing Shammanism, 
or how much of the original Nature-worship still under- 
lies the outward evidence of the comparatively newly 
introduced faiths. Shamman-doctors are still always 
resorted to in cases of sickness, and the sacrifice of horses 
is still continued amongst the Siberian Buriats. It is 
doubtful whether Christianity in Siberia has greater 
power in exterminating the Black Art than has Buddhism 
in Mongolia ; in both cases a good deal of it remains. 
But the influence of the presence of a foreign race, such 
as the Russian colonists amongst the indigenous Siberian 
tribes, ought to have more effect than that of the Bud- 
dhist missionaries. 

Nature-worship was formerly highly suitable to the 


Mongol character, it was a strong, simple faith, in no way 
weakening to the race, a worship — as Ratzel remarks — 
" poetic in feeling and artistic in representation." But 
the growth of a sacerdotal class and the enslavement of 
the people under the priests produced a state of affairs 
which, upon the introduction of Buddhism, easily turned 
the new faith into Lamaism. It is Lamaism which 
has sapped the strength and destroyed the independence 
of these people. In consequence, their reputation is not 
what it was when, as Shammanists, they rose to power 
and made their gigantic conquests. In Mongolia Bud- 
dhist influence has expelled the minor deities of the 
Shammanists, keeping only " Tengri " — the good spirit — 
the God of Heaven. But amongst the Uriankhai and 
the Siberian Shammanists a certain amount of idolatry 
remains. Indeed, I think, it will be a long time before 
any faith replaces the cult of the gods of nature amongst 
the reindeer-keeping Uriankhai. 



With the passage of the Tannu-ola we started a new 
stage in our journey. We here left behind us the varied 
scenery and wealth of life which belong to Siberia, and 
entered upon the cold, bleak monotony of the heart 
of the continent. This change brought us to the vast 
expanses and untrammelled distances of a land, where 
Nature has built her works on unusually extravagant 
lines ; it brought us to wider wanderings, to a freer life, 
and to a journey unimpeded by those obstacles we had 
experienced up to date. Instead of tangled under- 
growth, hidden views and narrow valleys, we were faced 
by far-flung wastes of the Gobi, and were able to in- 
dulge in a lengthened Wanderlust the natural result of 
close contact with its restless inhabitants. We experi- 
enced, too, the sense of movement brought about by 
these vast and barren plains, where the nomads shifted 
camp far more often than did the tribes of the forest, — 
who have ample grazing ; and we found real fascination 
in watching the slumberous movement of the camels, 
suggestive as it was of long marches over endless steppes 
and across arid deserts. 

Day after day, as we travelled across the boundless 
wastes of Inner Asia, we were surrounded by views 

I— 17 2 S7 


possessing the magic which inspires a man with great 
thoughts and " makes him long great longings." The 
stagnant atmosphere of the swampy taiga, was re- 
placed by air as exhilarating and as glorious as ether. 
The dark, sombre colouring of the Siberian forests, 
changed to the most vivid contrasts of light and shade, 
to the varied tones of the pale steppe and of the flower- 
strewn plateau. Contrasts, in short, such as Nature 
revels in placing in close proximity, and contrasts which 
are especially noticeable in the heart of this great 
Asiatic continent. 

It was with both expectation and enthusiasm that 
we climbed to the top of the Tannu-ola and looked down 
into Mongolia. This was the psychological moment 
during the course of our journey. A feeling of awe was 
ours, such as the least enthusiastic man would experience, 
upon finally reaching the summit of that " Great 
Divide." At this point the waters parted, the rain 
which fell on the slopes where we stood, found its way 
by streamlet, torrent, and gigantic river to the far-off 
Arctic Ocean ; the rain which fell on the other side of 
the range, was destined to go through a process of slow 
evaporation in the self-contained saline basins of Mon- 
golia itself. 

We stood on the crest of the southern wall of the 
Upper Yenisei basin and bade farewell to that little- 
known and secluded region, the investigation of which, 
had been the initial object of our journey. Behind us 
lay the Yenisei basin, with its forests, meadows, racing 
rivers, cloud-capped ranges and lowering storm-clouds. 
All that impenetrable region, with its peculiar inhabi- 
tants, lay behind us to the north. Before and below us 
stretched the limitless expanse of Mongolia, a world of 

Turgun, or Kundelun Range. 

Yamachu Range. 


plain and plateau, open to view, easy of access, free to 
all comers, and brilliantly lit up under cloudless skies. 
Could there be in the world two such contrasts 
as these, divided by the single breadth of one moun- 
tain-range ? The magnitude of the landscape was 
beyond possible description ; an impression can only 
suggest it. The region ahead of us appeared one of un- 
broken horizons, vast as the sea, and almost as bound- 
less. The eye roamed over a space equal to several 
weeks' journey, and at a glance covered several mountain- 
ranges. Plains as large as an English county divided 
mountain-groups as high as the Alps. Cloud-like, base- 
less ranges seemed to hang in the air, their snow-fields 
visible, but their foot-hills invisible, so far away were 
they below the natural curve of the earth's surface. 

The feeling of restlessness which this wonderful ex- 
panse brought about, was intensified by the total lack 
of settled habitation. The inhabitants of this country 
were as uncertain and restless as the winds which 
for ever swept across her plateaux. " Here to-day 
— gone to-morrow " is the motto of the Mongols, and 
this was so in fact, as their wanderings left no single 
trace of their existence. One travelled for weeks 
without the eye alighting on a sign of life, other than 
the distant glimpse of a hastening horseman, or a string 
of camels on a far horizon. Then suddenly, by con- 
trast, one arrived at a well-favoured locality where 
grass and water were abundant, and where, in conse- 
quence, one observed the domed tents of the Mongol 
nomads pitched in close array, and innumerable flocks 
and herds grazing over the rich pastures. 

Into this " new " country we rode down in a storm 
of rain. We received no warm welcome from Mongolia. 


We spent the night near some herdsmen's yurts, and 
arrived the next morning at one of the Mongol karauls, 
or guard-houses, which form the southern limit of the 
territory of the Uriankhai. The local official supplied us 
with a change of transport animals, and, obtaining horses 
in place of our sorely tried oxen, we despatched our 
Kemchik hirelings back to their own land — for even 
when in the service of distinguished strangers the 
Uriankhai were not permitted to pass the boundaries 
of their reserve. Here, for the first time, we accosted 
representatives of pure Mongol race ; truculent-looking 
rascals they seemed to us, after the reserved and 
rather timid Uriankhai. The natural influence of the 
wild life and freedom of the open Mongolian plateau 
could be traced in their careless and reckless manner ; 
they were loud-speaking, rough soldiery, used to a hard 
life, apt to bully those below them, but respectful to 
their superiors. 

The karauls stretch like a line of block-houses 
along the southern foot-hills of the Tannu-ola for 
about five hundred miles. In themselves they are 
nothing more permanent nor imposing than felt-yurts, — 
of larger dimensions than those in general use among the 
shepherds. Their names, however, are written large 
on the maps, as if they were permanent abodes ; for this 
reason the traveller is often misled in his calculations, 
as the karaul he expects to reach, may have been shifted 
a long distance from its position as shown on the 
maps. Each link in this chain of guard-houses is about 
thirty miles long, and every fifth guard-house is of 
greater importance than those preceding it, the resident 
official there, having control over the other four. 

Once on the south side of the Tannu-ola we had 


reached the true Mongolian plateau. Our route led 
along the southern foot-hills at an altitude of 4,500 ft. 
above sea-level. To the south, the land stretched 
out in a long, smooth sweep as far as the depression 
which contains Lake Ubsa — just distinguishable as 
a blue streak across the yellow steppe. Far away 
beyond the lake the country rose again into plateau- 
land, broken here and there by narrow ranges of rocky 
hills. The southern slopes of the Tannu-ola were neither 
well watered nor well timbered. Many of the valleys 
were waterless — although lines of larch and poplar bor- 
dered the dry watercourses. On the main range itself 
patches of forest seemed to hang on the slopes of the 
inner valleys having a north aspect, but all outlying 
spurs were stamped with signs indicative of lack of 
rainfall. Yet it was fair pasture-land, for we found 
Mongols in good numbers along the valleys, and we 
saw immense flocks of sheep grazing over the plains 
to the south. The abundance of pasture is accounted 
for by the prevalence of summer rains ; these mostly 
spent themselves on the ranges, but the result of their 
influence evidently extended some way across the plain 
to the south. Large masses of cumulus clouds stood 
over the ranges surrounding the Ubsa basin, showing 
that even in the month of August this part of Mongolia 
is anything but dry. 

We were now in a land where our passports were 
handled with respect, for we were dealing directly with 
the Chinese authorities. Local chiefs sent men to 
arrange our affairs, transport was procurable at a few 
hours' notice, and there were always plenty of men 
about to do odd jobs and any work demanded of them. 
The karaul of Borgushaitu, where we first accosted the 


Mongol guards, was only of the secondary type, yet the 
transport they provided us with numbered twenty men, 
thirty horses, and eight oxen ; and with this cavalcade 
we hastened by a forced march to the chief karaul of 
the district — Bodkhon-Khalat — which we reached the 
same day. Difficulties of locomotion, such as existed 
inside the basin, were here entirely absent, as proved 
by the fact that the first day's trek along and over the 
southern spurs of the Tannu-ola was thirty-five miles in 
length, and the heaviest laden horse only took twelve 
hours in which to accomplish it. 

At Bodkhon-Khalat we camped close to the little 
mud-built block-house, where a Chinese frontier official 
had his residence. Wang-fu, as he was named, possessed 
a most agreeable and delightful personality. We dined 
with him, and he came to tea with us, several times 
during our stay in the neighbourhood of his post. 
He kept up quite an establishment ; he had Chinese 
servants and a wife from his own province, and his 
house was typically Chinese, being built in the shape 
of a miniature yamen. His present to us consisted of 
a box of Chinese sweets such as come only from the 
cities of China Proper; he entertained us throughout 
with the trained etiquette of the true Celestial. This 
little outpost of the Empire was augmented by the 
presence of a Chinese trader who spent the summer here 
trading with the Mongols, but later on resorted to the 
Mongol winter settlements of Ulankom near Ubsa 

The presence of a Chinese official at Bodkhon-Khalat 
much impressed us, proving as it did the growing zeal 
with which the Chinese were coming to the fore along 
the Mongol frontier of Siberia. Wang-fu was directly 


under the Governor of Kobdo, the chief (and only) town 
of North-western Mongolia, his authority extending, 
solely, to the guarding of the frontier, and his position 
resembling that of a frontier-agent. He had no dealings 
with the Mongol tribesmen, — who were directly under 
their own Khan, — and only interfered with the affairs of 
the Khanate when he wished for transport, or local aid, in 
regard to his journeys or those of foreign travellers. He 
procured oxen and horses for us, and provided us with 
every help ; indeed, we were most agreeably surprised 
at the welcome and attention we received on first enter- 
ing this very far-away corner of the Celestial Empire. 

During our stay at the karaul we explored the 
neighbourhood. Price and I moved up the valley of 
the Saklia (or Saglik) and once again reached the 
watershed of the Tannu-ola. The Saklia is typical of 
the valleys which drain the Southern Tannu-ola; its 
floor is wide and of a very gentle gradient. 1 We travelled 
up it for twenty miles, from Bodkhon-Khalat to the sum- 
mit of the pass, without realizing that we were rising 
from 5,000 ft. to 8,000 ft. The pass at the head of the 

1 The actual valley of the Saklia gave evidence of the peculiar condi- 
tions under which the drainage from the mountain reaches the plain. 
The upper portion of the Saklia has many tributaries entering it from 
the Tannu-ola, yet none of these affluents reach the main river above 
ground ; all disappear below the surface on leaving the hills. The valley is 
composed of wide skrees on the north side, and the river runs close 
under the hills which border it on the south. In its lower portion the 
reverse is the case. No streams enter from the north, but many do from 
the Saklia range on its south. The south side of the valley is therefore 
composed of giant skrees which show where the drainage is, but no water 
flows visibly above ground. Where the valley widens out and loses itself 
in open steppe the water of the main river gradually disappears below 
the surface, to appear again on reaching the " water-table " of the Ubsa 
basin. A line of trees showed the main course of the drainage, but the 
line was not continuous as it would have been had the flow of water been 


valley which led over into an upper tributary of the 
Kemchik divided the Tannu-ola from the Saklia Range. 
The passage over the divide here was even easier than 
that of the Borashay Pass. A five-mile-wide break con- 
sisting of smooth, rounded, grassy hills lay between the 
two ranges. There were no natural difficulties on the 
south side ; but we noted that the descent on the north 
was very much steeper and more sudden, and led into a 
wild-looking hill-country, which might prove difficult to 
negotiate with pack-animals. We climbed to 10,000 ft. 
on the west side of the pass, and noted that at its 
western end the Tannu-ola kept its typical character of 
flat-topped summits and terraced flanks ; but the Saklia 
Range to our south was of great contrast, for its rough, 
jagged peaks and deep-cut valleys, proved it to be a 
range of very different formation and age. 

Miller, who had gone off into the southern part of this 
range, afterwards claimed it to be the roughest country 
he had ever been in, and this, — after his previous experi- 
ences in the most difficult valleys of the Tian Shan 
Mountains, — shows that the Saklia Range is evidently 
geologically separate from the Tannu-ola. A change in 
the fauna was also recorded, for Miller saw herds of ibex 
and many snow-cock during his preliminary survey of the 
range, — two forms we had not hitherto come across. 
This region, too, is a former haunt of the Mongolian wild- 
sheep, but it is probable they do not exist here at the 
present day, having been driven out of the lower country 
by the innumerable domestic herds and their owners. 
We saw the first derelict horns of Ovis ammon near 
the base of the Borashay Pass, — that locality standing 
as their most north-easterly limit. 

The upper half of the Saklia Valley belongs to Urian- 


khai of the Kemchik tribe, and about there we found 
them quite numerous. The grazing is good, and large 
flocks of sheep and goats, a few horses and cattle, but no 
camels, were herded by their owners, who appeared to 
differ in no way from the Mongols of the lower part of 
the valley. The Saklia Valley must always have been 
a desirable locality, judging by the abundance of old 
grave-mounds which adorned the whole length of the 
valley above the karaul. Some were of peculiar shape 
and remarkable size. Stone-circles, with a diameter 
of 60 yards, surrounded central mounds, cobbled with 
smooth round stones ; others were square in shape, but 
these were rare, the most numerous being the ordinary 
cobbled mound of rather small dimensions. These, it 
will be noted, were of quite a different pattern to the 
giant earthen tumuli of the Minnusinsk steppe, with 
their addition of upright stone slabs, and belonged prob- 
ably to a period when the Mongolians, and not the 
Uriankhai, held the upper Saklia Valley. 

On August 10th we were all back at our camp near 
the karaul, and preparing our plans for the future. We 
had arranged our journey thus far with no other object 
than to accomplish our work of exploration and investiga- 
tion in the country of the Uriankhai. Now that we were 
beyond the limits of their territory, we found ourselves 
faced by an altogether unexpected extent of Mongolia, 
which offered so much of interest, and so large a scope 
for useful work that we scarcely knew which way to 
turn. We had made no plans beyond that of our original 
itinerary, that we should traverse the north-western 
plateau of Outer Mongolia from the Upper Yenisei basin 
to the Great Altai, and should eventually cross that range 
of mountains into the lowlands of Dzungaria. We had 


but little knowledge of the region or its conditions ; so 
we did not predetermine our line of march, and rather 
decided on taking action according to circumstances 
which might arise. 

Miller arrived back from his excursion to the Saklia 
Range, with glowing accounts of a high snow-range far 
to the south, which he had caught sight of from the 
summit of a peak he had climbed. Later on, when we 
moved the entire caravan over the rolling uplands to 
the south, and crossed a ridge out of the Ubsa basin 
into that of Uriu Nor, we, too, saw this range ; and 
the beauty of its pinnacles, its glaciers, and ice-capped 
summits, caused us to turn our Mongol horsemen, and 
head over the downlands in that direction. The first 
sight of those eternal snows stirred us to a pitch of 
enthusiasm never experienced before, and aroused in 
us that " swift home-sickness for the world above the 
snow-line/ ' which forced us to put aside any other 
thought beyond the longing to stand aloft and overlook 
Mongolia. Thus, by chance, we made the acquaintance 
of the Turgun or Kundelun group, 1 a mountain-mass of 
peculiar charm, holding an unique position on the Mongo- 

1 The nomenclature of the Turgun group and its principal peaks is 
somewhat undecided. The Russian " 40-verst " map — the standard 
map of the region up to the date of our surveys — gives Turgun as the name 
of the principal northern summit, and Kharkir for the southern, but no 
name for the mountain-group as a whole. The Durbets themselves call 
the locality in general " Tszouselan," which signifies summer- resort, and 
refer to the highlands as " Mengou-tsason," or Eternal Snows. The 
principal rivers are named after the highlands they drain, viz. Kharkir 
and Turgun. Turgun, however, is the name for only the highest tributary, 
the remainder of the drainage being called Kundelun, after the Kuria 
named " Kunde." This is probably the largest valley in the range, and 
one of the most important on account of it being the residence of the Dalai 
Khan and the religious community. We have therefore adopted the name 
Kundelun as a secondary title for the range, and given it to one of the 
previously unnamed peaks. 


lian plateau, and of surpassing interest, principally on 
account of it being the summer home of the Durbets, 1 
a typical Mongol tribe. 

On August nth we started to journey southwards 
across steppe-country, alternated by well-pastured hills, 
until, on the evening of the third day, our straggling 
caravan of horses and oxen descended into a rich, well- 
watered, and beautifully green valley, the Kundelun, 
which led up through the larch-forests to the glittering 
snow-fields and towering peaks of the Turgun Moun- 
tains. At the point where the river leaves a steep- 
sided, narrow mountain-valley, there was situated a 
large Kuria, called Kunde-Kuria, with its annexe of 
lamaseries. Below this, where the valley widened into 
a broad meadow-land, were pitched the great white- 
felt tents of the Dalai Khan, or " Great Chief," here- 
ditary prince of the Durbet tribe. The large number of 
yurts, the herds of yaks, horses, and sheep denoted a 
considerable population. Also, as is generally the case 
where a large population exists to-day, there were to be 
seen the traces of ancient occupation. The presence of 
burial-mounds of most pretentious size and stone effi- 
gies of long-dead Mongol chiefs adorned this part of the 
Kundelun Valley, and showed that for many ages it had 
been an important summer-resort. 

The surroundings were certainly of exceptional beauty 
and charm. Encampments of nomads dotted the grassy 
swards beside the clear white glacier-streams, which 
flowed fast over rocky beds. Hills of short-cropped 
sheep-pasture led up to forested slopes, broken and 

1 The name is spelt by different writers Darbet, Dorbot, or Durbets. 
They belong to the western branch of the Mongols, and originally formed 
a part of a single tribe which included the Dzungars and Khoits, for which 
confederation the collective name was Choros. 


rent by narrow valleys giving the traveller enticing 
glimpses of regions of rock and snow beyond. Flocks 
and herds, hurrying horsemen, and lamas " on tour" 
gave an air of life and importance to the Kundelun 
Valley. The beauty of our surroundings, the air of 
6,000 ft. above sea-level, the presence of a typical tribe 
of the once-powerful Mongols — the remnant of a race 
who once terrified the Western world — stimulated our 
imagination, and aroused in us an ambition to investigate 
the problems which our surroundings suggested. 

The usual courtesies were exchanged with the Dalai 
Khan. Mounted messengers passed and repassed be- 
tween our camp beside the river and the white-domed 
yurt of the chief. The first deputation brought blue 
silk handkerchiefs x — as a sign of esteem — with inquiries 
as to who we were and what we had to sell. The only 
strangers who visited these regions, — that they had know- 
ledge of or dealings with, — were the Siberian traders, who 
annually make a circuit of the Mongol encampments to 
barter Russian goods for hides, wool, and furs. Their 
surprise was great when we told them that we were not 
Russian, and had nothing to sell. We " came from a 
land the other side of Siberia and beyond Russia, from 
an island in the sea," and this we could only explain to 
them by comparing our home to that of the Japanese, of 
whom they had knowledge. They grew doubtful, how- 
ever, when we said we were not the subjects of the Czar ; 
they could not believe this, for all men who were not 
Chinese — all men who were white — must be Russian. 

1 These finely woven pieces of blue silk, called " hattaks," are in use 
throughout Mongolia as value-units. They are used for presents and the 
decoration of holy pictures ; it is also customary for a Mongol, when 
making a request to a high official, to present, first of all, one of these 


Kuildelun Peak. 

Kundelun Peak. 


Vamachu Rang< 


These Mongols never grasped who we were, but 
certain lamas farther west who knew of recent affairs 
in Lhasa and the flight of the Dalai Lama to India, 
recognized the " Inglis " — the rulers of Hindustan — and 
immediately besieged us with questions as to where the 
Dalai Lama actually was, and whether he was going to 
return to Tibet. Religion can have the very greatest in- 
fluence in widening the ideas of men. The lamas alone 
were aware of the existence of any other countries besides 
Mongolia, and even their worldly knowledge extended 
no further than to Lhasa and Urga. In this connexion, 
when we first came across Mussulman nomad-tribes in 
North-west Mongolia, we found that most of the know- 
ledge they possessed of the outside world was entirely 
owing to the spirit of zeal in which they undertook their 
pilgrimage to Mecca. The old " hadjis " whom we 
met had some knowledge of the English, but had no 
idea of the whereabouts of our native country, except 
that it was " beyond Stambul westwards " ! 

The Dalai Khan of the Durbets was ill during our 
stay near his abode. At first we thought this was merely 
an excuse to avoid the trouble of paying and receiving 
visits, but we soon found out it was only too true. The 
lamaseries turned out in full strength to try and charm 
away the sickness ; lamas were coming and going all 
day long between the temples and the chief's tent, and 
the sound of their doleful chanting was wafted to us 
across the meadows. Thus, we never saw the Khan; 
and much to our regret, for he was a rare type of an 
hereditary prince of ancient stock, claiming direct descent 
from Jenghis Khan himself. 

One evening two of his sons visited us, giving us 
thereby an idea of the appearance of a Mongol of good 


birth. After our dealings with the riff-raff of the herds- 
men, with rough soldiers and with primitive hunters, we 
had grown accustomed to the idea that all Mongols were 
heavily built, rough, ill-mannered, ugly to look upon, and 
with leathery faces; but these two Mongol gentlemen 
astonished us by their indefinable look of breeding and 
by their charm of manner. Of average height, and 
lightly built, with clean, sharp-cut features, a soft, dark, 
olive skin and small hands, they showed a marked con- 
trast to their retainers. They had the refined air, the 
politeness of manner, and courteous style, which belongs 
only to those Mongols who are accustomed to rule. They 
investigated our belongings, were most interested in our 
writings and in our cameras, and we parted the best of 
friends. There is still " spirit " left in the Mongols, 
judging by these two men of good birth ; they, at any 
rate, gave us no impression of decay or deterioration. 
Turned into the right channels, the Mongol Khans could 
wield great power to good effect. Even now the tide is 
turning, and when the nomads have realized their strength 
and regained their self-reliance, they may also regain 
their independence. 

We have before mentioned the Kuria and the 
population of lamas which helped to make the religious 
element so marked ; in proportion to the population 
this element was very much more numerous and pro- 
nounced than amongst the Uriankhai of the Yenesei 
basin. Lamaism, with its accompanying evils, creates 
a problem of unusual interest in connexion with the 
Mongols ; and the information given in the next chapter, 
as to the effect it has had upon the race in the past, will 
go far to explain the present state of the Mongols under 
its influence. 


The Kuria was a large, gaudily painted, wooden 
building of partly Chinese, partly Russian design, sur- 
rounded by a high stockade of larch-poles. Around it 
were grouped six other temples, numerous buildings, and 
innumerable palisaded enclosures, within which were 
pitched ordinary yurts, as dwelling-places for the lamas ; 
for the Mongol always prefers his felt tent, even when 
living a sedentary life in a settled abode. Besides these 
sacred precincts there were a few houses belonging to the 
Chinese merchants, who carried on a lively business 
amongst the tribesmen, in clothing, pipes, snuff, tea, 
tobacco, and ornaments for their women-folk. In close 
proximity was the palace of the Dalai Khan, a brick- 
built dwelling of Chinese architecture. The chief, how- 
ever, never uses it, for he prefers tent-life ; but it is said 
to be full of old books, armour, ointments, and treasure! 

Well away from the unsavoury quarters belonging 
to the lamas, — for when nomads take to sedentary life, 
cleanliness does not exist, and ideas of sanitation are nil, — 
we found the yurts of a Russian trader. He and his 
wife lived a curious existence, moving about from en- 
campment to encampment, but becoming resident during 
the summer months near to the main summer quarters of 
the tribe, and trading with all the Mongols with whom 
they came in contact. In winter they return to Biisk 
in the Siberian Altai, in order to replenish their supply of 
trade goods and to transport their gain, in the shape of 
hides, wool, and furs to the Siberian markets. We found 
their yurts to be half -full of marmot-skins, which seem to 
represent the chief prey of the Mongol hunters. 

Although the Khan of the tribe was ill and could 
not entertain us, yet he set aside men for our service, and 
liberally provided us with all the transport we needed. 


Numerous presents passed between us. Sheep were of 
no value here, and as they used to arrive daily as presents, 
we always had a few attached to our caravan awaiting 
their fate. A Mongol saddle was amongst the presents 
he sent to us, on which saddle I rode all the way to 
Kashmir ; whilst details which figured largely amongst 
our gifts to him were rolls of silk, blue velvet, bottles of 
brandy, and coloured beads. 

The region in which we now found ourselves, was 
characteristic of Northern Mongolia, while the Turgun 
\ highlands were a typical summer-resort of a Mongol 
tribe. North-western Mongolia, of which, politically, 
this district forms a part, is divided into tribal areas, 
of which there are about thirty-eight, all of which belong 
to, and are still under the direct rule of, independent 
hereditary Khans. China holds suzerainty over the 
whole, 1 and an especially appointed official of military 
rank, resident at Uliassutai acts as intermediary between 
the Khans and the Emperor of China. 2 The Durbet 
clan is one of the thirty-eight, they claim an important 
and rich area of considerable size, and their Khan has 
the prefix of Dalai, which denotes that the tribe is of 
greater importance than the usual run of Mongol tribes. 
According to Vladimirtsoff, — a Russian traveller who 
visited the Durbets in 1908, — the Durbet tribe is divided 

1 All statements concerning the political and administrative affairs of 
Mongolia, in this chapter, can be taken as reliable only up till the end 
of 1 91 1. 

2 Outer Mongolia is divided into two administrative divisions. At 
Urga there resides a Chinese Imperial Agent, who rules over the eastern 
division of the Kalkha tribes, whilst at Uliassutai a military Governor (or 
Tzian-tziun) controls the affairs of the western Kalkhas, which includes 
these thirty-eight tribal divisions of Mongols and the Uriankhai people. 
The entire administration of Outer Mongolia is under the supreme control 
of the Mongolian Superintendency at Pekin. 


into six " Khosuns," or administrative divisions, each 
division being governed by an hereditary prince of 
different title and rank. The first in order is the Dalai 
Khan, who rules the whole of the western portion of the 
Durbet country. The second division is under the 
Wang, who controls the eastern portion. Below these 
are four other minor chiefs. The old reigning family 
is now extinct, the contemporary Khan being an adopted 
son of the last of the line of hereditary Dalai Khans. 
However, he possesses the full title and rights of pre- 
cedence and has six sons to carry on the duties of ruling 

Roughly speaking, the Durbet s own about 16,000 square 
miles of country, which composes a region particularly 
favourable to nomadic life, and is in consequence more 
than usually well populated. Their territory stretches 
from Lake Ubsa to the Little Altai Mountains and in- 
cludes the whole of the Turgun group, together with the 
Barmen Mountains and southern edge of the Sailugem 
Range, besides the intervening plains and plateaux. On 
the north, the line of Mongol karauls denotes where their 
land marches with that of the Uriankhai, and on the 
south the Upper Kobdo River and Kirghiz Nor roughly 
define the limits of the Durbet tribe. The whole of 
Lake Ubsa is included within their boundaries, as well 
as Uriu and Achit Nor. Of this area one-third — the 
western portion — which includes the Achit Nor basin, 
and half the Turgun Mountain group, belongs to the 
Dalai Khan, whilst the remaining two-thirds — the eastern 
portion — including the eastern flanks of the Turgun and 
the Ubsa basin, is under the rule of the Wang. The 
Dalai Khan resides in the Kundelun Valley, his winter 
quarters being in the above-mentioned settlement of 
I— 18 


Kunde-Kuria, and in summer he lives in the neighbouring 
valley. The Wang uses his residence in Ulankom during 
the winter and moves in summer up into the Kharkir 
Valley, the main drainage of the eastern side of the range. 
Thus the country of the Durbets is divided into two 
main divisions. We ourselves only visited the territory 
of the Dalai Khan, and had no dealings whatever with 
the Wang. In order to make the description of the 
Durbet country complete, I have included details of the 
Wang's district, most of my information having been 
sought out of Potanin's works and from the recent ob- 
servations of VladimirtsofT. 

The Durbets' territory shows much contrast both in 
climate and in physical conditions. The tribesmen enjoy, 
by their close proximity to the low-lying Ubsa and Kirghiz 
Nor basins, most favourably situated winter resorts. 
Ulankom, a small settlement on the south-west of the 
Ubsa Nor, is the main winter resort of subjects of the 
Wang, and, being on the direct route between Kobdo and 
the Yenisei region in Siberia, has additional importance 
due to the passing of a certain amount of traffic. Ulankom, 
according to all accounts — for we did not visit it — is an 
important centre of trade of the whole of the Ubsa basin, 
which includes the well-populated valley of the Tess, as 
well as the Durbet encampments. It lies in a region 
which supports a considerable nomadic population, and 
it has no rival trading-posts nearer than Kobdo or 
Uliassutai. Ulankom is therefore of economic import- 
ance, which importance might immeasurably increase, 
if the trade-route connecting it with the Yenisei pro- 
vince, by way of the Kemchik and Abakan Valleys, were 
improved and opened up for the use of enterprising 
traders. Potanin remarks that it possesses one of the 


largest cemeteries of old tombs and burial-mounds in 
Mongolia, proving that this locality must always have 
been a centre of Mongol life. 

At the present day Ulankom is the haunt of a few 
Chinese and Russian traders as well as of the Durbet 
population, which is larger in winter than it is in summer, 
for the nomads in winter concentrate on the low, and 
comparatively warm, shores of Lake Ubsa, where the 
saline pasture affords winter fodder for their herds. 
The presence of the houses belonging to these traders, 
and the residence of the Durbet Wang — a house built on 
Chinese lines — raises Ulankom to the station of a town 
in the eyes of the tent-dwelling nomads. There is plenty 
of water, for the drainage of the glaciers and snow-fields 
of the Turgun, which sinks below the surface of the 
ground on leaving the mountains, at this point oozes 
up and forms fine meadows and marsh-lands. A small 
amount of cultivation is practised, wheat and oats being 
grown ; but the nomads find it more profitable, on account 
of the saline nature of the soil, to use the pastures for 
fattening their great flocks of sheep. 

The Durbets are equally well off in regard to their 
summer pastures, their territory including the famous 
Turgun Mountains, whose thousands of square miles of 
grassy downs, forested valleys, and luxuriant alpine 
pastures form an ideal summer resort for the nomads 
and their flocks. The cool uplands are a refuge for their 
horses from the annoyance of fly-pests, while at the 
same time supplying the most nourishing grass ; here 
wander the herds of yaks which cannot endure the heat, 
and from the appearance of which we judged the locality 
to be eminently suitable to these strange beasts, which 
in these mountains practically reach the extreme 


northern limit of their range. 1 Here, too, great flocks 
of sheep, — the main source of wealth to the Mongols, — 
thrive and produce excellent wool. 

The Durbets should be well satisfied with the terri- 
tory allotted to them. Plain and plateau were alike at 
their disposal. Beyond the Turgun Mountains to the 
west their territory stretches for a hundred miles, the 
greater part of this region being a nomads' land, suitable 
for pasturing unlimited herds. There are rivers, lakes, 
and sheltered valleys giving most welcome refuge from 
the bitter winds and driven snows. And last, but not 
least important, the Durbet territory lies on the main 
road between Mongolia and Siberia, and consequently 
the Durbets find an easier outlet for their wealth than 
do the tribes of more remote regions. 

The Turgun Mountains, the real home of the tribe, 
are the principal feature of North-western Mongolia. 
With superb grandeur the snow pinnacles rise above the 
forested valleys and grassy plateaux. From every point 
of the compass, for many days' journey away, one can 

1 Yaks (Bos grunniens), according to Klementz, are the only domesti- 
cated animals owned by the Darkat tribe of the region of Lake Kossogol. 
This, then, would be actually the most northerly extent of their range. 
They are not found within the basin of the Upper Yenisei. Their habitat 
in these Mongolian mountains is quite isolated and cut off from other 
haunts of the yak throughout Central Asia. They are to be found in the 
Turgun group and in the Eastern Altai. We next come across them in 
the Karlik Tagh Mountains at the extreme eastern end of the Tian Shan 
system, a locality separated from the Turgun Mountains by five hundred 
miles of steppe and desert. Here there were only small numbers to be 
seen, and we did not notice them in any quantity until reaching their true 
home in Little Tibet. To our knowledge there are no wild yaks anywhere 
in Mongolia. It is of interest to note that the early travellers, Rubruck 
and Carpini, made no mention of the yak in Mongolia, but Rubruck de- 
scribed them, by hearsay, as existing in the Tangut country, to the north- 
east of Tibet, where the " Moul " (Mongols) used them for drawing their 
big dwellings on carts. 


see the principal peak, a cone of ice, which rises to over 
13,000 ft. in altitude. For several weeks of continuous 
surveying, I kept this peak as a fixed point on my plane- 
table sheets ; it was nearly always within view, and never 
failed to help me over my difficulties. From the high- 
lands one can gaze over illimitable spaces and hold 
within one's view three separate, self-contained basins — 
those represented by the lakes of Uriu, Achit and Ubsa. 
The Turgun Range, indeed, forms a part of the watershed 
between these three basins, and its snows drain, in even 
proportion, into the basins of Ubsa and Kobdo. Ubsa 
lies like a turquoise sea in an ochre-coloured steppe, — a 
typical desert lake, — yet supporting on its shores a con- 
siderable population at certain seasons of the year. 
Uriu Nor, a comparatively small basin, is tucked away 
under the rugged and steep slopes of the Saklia Range to 
the north-west, whilst Achit Nor is a plateau-lake at 
an altitude of 4,600 ft., and drains southwards by way 
of the Kobdo River to its last home in the Kirghiz Nor. 

The Turgun group covers roughly 3,500 square miles, 
that is to say, about one-fifth of the territory of the 
Durbets. Orographically the mountain mass is connected 
with the Sailugem portion of the Altai system by a 
plateau-like range called the Barmen, and by a lower 
downland with the Saklia Range. To the southwards 
its foot-hills run out and merge into the featureless, rolling 
plateau-country which extends for some hundred miles 
to the Great Altai. As a snow-capped mountain of 
alpine character, the Turgun stands solitary, rising 
sharply above the steppes and the desert-ranges which 
surround it on all sides. 

The importance of these mountains as being the 
home of the Durbet tribe, and also, no doubt, their 


attractiveness, have caused them to be visited by 
more than one explorer. No Englishman, except 
Atkinson, — who, by the way, never mentions them, — has 
even set eyes on these untrodden snow-fields, and none 
have ever peeped into the beautiful valleys which lie 
below. Russian travellers have reconnoitred this region 
and given us a general impression of the physiography of 
the Turgun Range, but only one, so far as I can ascer- 
tain, has made any attempt to scale its peaks, or even 
to penetrate into its upper valleys. This was Potanin, 
whose labours at exploration have already been noticed 
and commented on, in the Introduction to this work. 
Between the years 1876—9 Potanin seems to have 
repeatedly visited the Turgun Range or its neighbour- 
hood. He gives most detailed descriptions of every 
day's work, but he fails to generalize or to describe the 
range and its inhabitants with any thoroughness. 
Potanin's labours lay entirely on the eastern flanks of 
the range in the valley of Kharkir; consequently the 
western and southern portions of the range remained 
unknown. Other travellers to the Turgun have merely 
followed in Potanin's footsteps, and our previous know- 
ledge of this region resulted only from his work, or that 
of his subordinates. The west or south-west portion of 
this range doubly demanded our observation and atten- 
tion, and in the pleasant valley of Kundelun, we pre- 
pared a plan of work which included an exploration of 
the highlands at the sources of the Kundelun and the 
Turgun Rivers, and of all the western side of the range 
which drains into Achit Nor. 

Our request for transport was acknowledged by the 
Dalai Khan by the deputing of an official, specially 
authorized to look after us and to provide us with all 





we needed. A demand for a dozen oxen was promptly 
answered by the arrival of the animals, as well as of 
several riding-horses and innumerable Mongol hench- 
men. The word of this " King's Messenger " was law 
throughout the land. He wore the hat of a Chinese 
official, as a mark of his rank, and to show that he was 
on his Khan's special business. If he needed to hand 
over the management of our affairs to another he merely 
exchanged hats ! Whoever wore the hat was in com- 
mand, and could demand food and lodging wherever he 
went. No doubt they made full use of the scope thus 
provided for making good any debts owed to them, 
and for having a good time in general ! 

This supply of free transport across Mongolia was 
quite unexpected, and we nearly gave ourselves away 
by trying to bargain for the cost of hire, thereby show- 
ing that we did not demand it as a right. We soon dis- 
covered that the custom of the country entitled us, as 
strangers, to full use of all beasts of burden. How else 
could travellers proceed at all in such a land of distance, 
where horses are more numerous than people, and where 
one asks for the loan of a horse as we, at home, would 
ask for a match ? Moreover, the provision of transport is 
demanded as a tax from the natives by the Chinese rulers. 
Any man may be called upon to supply horses, oxen, or 
camels to help transport the officials and their retinues 
to the next encampment, where another change is made, 
or the animals belonging to that particular locality are 
again turned to account. 

Our passports from Pekin entitled us to travel as 
Chinese officials, and we were treated with all respect. 
By the help of a few useful presents to the head-men, 
we had free service of innumerable men and horses. The 


Dalai Khan ordered men to go with us as far as the 
limits of his territory, and these men, in turn, found 
other men and horses for us. We merely had to ask 
for so many horses, camels, or oxen, and they were 
immediately forthcoming. Two head-men usually ac- 
companied us, who had six or eight men under them. 
The Khan's word was law, his messengers had pre- 
cedence over all that came in their way. One head-man 
generally went in advance to arrange for the necessary 
number of men and animals to be ready for us at the 
next encampment ; for the Mongol never passes an 
encampment without changing horses. By the use of 
innumerable horses he can make greater speed, and 
avoid tiring out any particular animal. 

The one idea of the nomads was to convey us as 
quickly as possible to the next encampment, and thus 
get rid of us. We travelled almost too quickly at times, 
for we had scarcely time to rest. Relays of horses took 
us from place to place at the greatest possible speed. 
We never knew from whence our relays appeared. 
The lonely plateau would suddenly discover a group of 
camels and horses, our jaded caravan would stop and 
unload, and within half an hour the fresh lot would be 
on the move. We used to get into camp late in the 
evening, with a tired caravan ; during the night fresh 
horses and men would arrive, and in the morning we 
trekked on again without delay. All appeared as if by 
magic ; often for many days' journey we saw no yurts 
nor herds, nor any sign of habitation. We sometimes 
counted twenty or twenty-five Mongols around our 
camp ; they came and went, there was never a request 
for money. It was the Khan's pleasure that we should 
see his country, and we traversed Mongolia like princes. 


Nor, indeed, would these hardy nomads have appreciated 
money, nor troubled to supply transport for remunera- 
tion. They had no need of silver or gold, and scarcely 
knew the value of money. As serfs they lived their 
lives under a feudal system, without ambition or desire 
for gain. Silver roubles were nothing to them, except 
as ornaments for their wives, and the faces of these 
rough Mongol cavaliers only broadened into smiles of 
appreciation when we offered them chunks of brick-tea 
at the end of a long day's journey. 

We set out from Kunde-Kuria on August 15th 
to explore the upper portions of the Kundelun Valley 
and the peaks at its head- waters. The lower foot-hills 
of the range were a beautiful contrast of grassy downs 
and forested slopes. Nomads " tented " here in good 
numbers, and their herds found the very best nourish- 
ment in the luxuriant valleys. The forest-belt was not 
wide, and existed only on the flanks facing north. 

After making a base-camp at forest-limit, we loaded 
up horses with firewood, and, moving up still higher, 
camped at an altitude of 8,300 ft. at the base of the 
terminal moraine of the glaciers. This we considered 
to be the main source of the Kundelun River, as the 
valley corresponded to that named Turgun by the Russian 
explorer Potanin, and we imagined the Turgun peak, 
the culminating point of the range, to be at the head of 
the valley. There were so many peaks of apparently 
equal height at the head of the valley, that it was 
difficult to decide which deserved the name of Turgun. 
We afterwards found that the highest peak of the 
group was not by any means the most conspicuous, and 
that it did not drain into the Turgun Valley, so, as 
we presume the name of Turgun was applied to the 


culminating point, we leave it thus, in deference to 
that great explorer, and have named the other peaks 
independently. All the peaks at the head-waters of 
the Kundelun River were new to the maps ; in fact, the 
whole alpine region of the Turgun needed remapping. 

We spent the next three days exploring the glaciers 
and peaks at the sources of the Turgun. We found that 
we had steered a true course towards the most con- 
spicuous, if not the highest, peak of the range, — a peak 
which had caught our eyes from afar, on account of its 
summit being almost the shape of a pyramid. A nearer 
view showed us that this peak was one of the highest 
in the range, and formed one end of a semicircle of snow- 
summits which surrounded the sources of the Turgun 
River. We had set our hearts on climbing this peak, 
but after three days in its vicinity and careful recon- 
noitring of all its flanks both from here and again from 
its south side, we found its ice-cap to be impregnable to 
any but the most skilful alpinists. Indeed, we think 
the most experienced climber would find his match in 
the wonderful ice-cap which covers the top of this peak, 
which we have called Kundelun, from the name of the 
main valley which drains from it. 

We spent some days on the two glaciers which form 
the source of the Turgun, and from a point of vantage 
on the peak named Kundelun we gazed down on to the 
glacier at the source of a tributary of the Kharkir, which 
is probably the largest in the range. At the bend of 
this glacier is the highest peak, Turgun, and we named 
the glacier after it. The longest glacier we estimated 
as being about three miles in length. The two glaciers 
which formed the source of the Turgun River were re- 
spectively two miles and a mile and a half in length, 


and about half a mile in breadth. Both were in a 
process of retreat. The present snout of the one that 
descends from the Kundelun Peak was a mile above the 
end of its terminal moraine. In altitude the foot of 
this glacier was 9,758 ft. above the sea-level and de- 
scended about 1,000 ft. below snow-line. The surface 
of the glacier was mostly smooth, but that of the 
Eastern Kundelun glacier was broken up at its base 
into fantastic seracs. 

During our excursion we reached the top of the 
Eastern Kundelun glacier, and found ourselves on a 
narrow, knife-like edge, — the watershed between the 
Kundelun, Kharkir, and Enderti river-systems. This 
was the very centre of the range. Here we were sur- 
rounded by a world of snow-peaks, of which six were 
remarkable for their height ; but all were outrivalled 
by the special and peculiar beauty of the Kundelun 

Many interesting but arduous days we spent in 
climbing and mapping in these alpine regions. From 
our camp at the foot of the moraine we made excursions 
in every direction. Generally we had to go alone, for 
our Mongol horsemen were not at all at home on the ice 
and snow, nor indeed could they go where their horses 
failed them, owing to their ungainly walk and their big, 
long boots. So with ruck-sack, food, cameras, and 
instruments, we covered as much of the high country as 
possible by the simple means of long days on foot, and 
in spite of bad weather we were well repaid for our 
labours. The great extent of country above snow-line 
and the very considerable glaciation of the range, misled 
us as to its altitude. After careful work and the taking 
of many hypsometric readings for altitude, and the 


clynometer readings of those peaks of which we could 
not reach the summit, we found that the culminating 
point of the group reached no more than 13,350 ft. above 
sea-level, whilst there were many peaks averaging 
12,500 ft. Thus, in comparison to its height, the Turgun 
group presents a remarkable exhibition of alpine charac- 
teristics. At first we were at a loss to explain a cause, 
but after our experiences in the Turgun Valley it was 
made clear to us. The great precipitation of snow 
which makes the Turgun so fine a sight is due indirectly 
to the position of the range over the Ubsa basin. Peculiar 
climatic conditions result from this, which cause cloudy 
weather during the summer months, thus preserving 
the snow from melting. 

During our residence in August on the Turgun Range 
we were repeatedly hampered in our work by bad 
weather. Many consecutive days were so overcast and 
cloudy that climbing was difficult, and photography was 
out of the question. August was evidently a month of 
very unsettled climatic conditions ; rain fell occasionally, 
but dull, cloudy weather was more common, and this 
completely wrapt in mist the whole area above 8,000 ft. 
for days at a time. When reading up Potanin's accounts 
I found that he made special reference to the same 
phenomenon prevailing in June and July ; thus it is 
reasonable to suppose that the same cloudy weather 
which we experienced continues throughout the summer 
months. Potanin was on the plain at the east side of 
the range, and in the Kharkir Valley, during June and 
July and for twenty-three days between June 27th and 
July 19th he recorded the meteorology. The result was 
that, out of these twenty-three days, seven were fine but 
cloudy, and sixteen were cloudy with rain, there were 


eleven thunderstorms, and twice it hailed. He remarked 
on the low temperatures. An average midday tempera- 
ture was 74 Fahr., w T hilst at nine in the evening it dropped 
to 43 Fahr. No doubt, with this temperature, the hail 
and rain of the plain fell as snow at 12,000 to 14,000 ft. 
on the Turgun highlands. Clouds and mist are the 
greatest preservatives of snow and ice ; a summer season, 
such as the Turgun experiences according to both 
Potanin's and our own records, is all that is needed to 
make the alpine zone of the range remarkable for its 
excessive quantity of snow and glaciation. 

This is one direct cause for the preservation of the 
alpine character of the Turgun Mountains ; but, on look- 
ing further, we find that the position of the mountain 
over the Ubsa basin is the true cause of this peculiar 
summer climate, and indirectly responsible for the 
precipitation and preservation of the snow. The Ubsa 
basin is the lowest part of North-west Mongolia, the lake 
stands at an altitude of 2,370 ft., and the basin presents 
the appearance of a low, hot depression in the high, cold 
plateau-land which surrounds it. The Turgun stands 
up, overlooking the depression, at a distance of about 
sixty miles from the lake-shore. The close proximity 
of the high, cool alpine region to the hot depression is 
a probable cause of the frequent storms and of the 
cloudy weather. There is a similar example in the case 
of the Bogdo-ola Mountains and of the low depression 
of Turgun, where the same peculiar climatic phenomenon 
has been noticed. The hot air of the Ubsa basin rises 
and condenses on the cool Turgun highlands, where 
consequently, throughout all summer, clouds and mist 
hang and drift, preserving the unrivalled snow-fields 
and ice-peaks, adding to the beauty of the land of the 


Durbets, and indirectly giving them a more than usual 
abundance of pasture. 1 

After mapping all the country that we could reach 
from our camp in the Upper Turgun Valley, we travelled 
slowly round the range to the west, and finally to the 
south, until we reached the valleys which drain the 
western portion of the range into the Achit Nor basin. 
This took us over a pass of 8,700 ft., which divided the 
Turgun from the Enderti waters ; here we encamped for 
two days at a high altitude on the south side of the 
Barmen Range, to make more certain of our surveys, 
and to allow time for a hasty visit to the Uriu Nor. 
Price undertook this lateral expedition, and returned 
after a trying experience of two days in the open without 
shelter, during which time bitter cold and a blizzard 
from the north showed us what Mongolia can be like 
in August. 

Price's visit to Uriu Nor was of value, and his 
observations on the levels of the lake coincided with 
those we had made at a little isolated lake-basin in the 
plateau-region to the east of that lake. Many old 
strands indicated previous water-levels up to thirty feet 
above the present level of the lakes, and showed that 
these basins in North-west Mongolia are in the same state 
of fluctuation as are all other self-contained inland drain- 
ages throughout Inner Asia. These are the rain-gauges 
which testify of days when a moister and cooler climate 

1 The whole of Northern Mongolia is subject to severe weather even in 
summer. The earliest travellers remarked on this. Carpini, who visited 
this region early in the thirteenth century, remarks : " The ayre also in that 
country is verie intemperate. For in the midst of sommer there be great 
thunders and lightnings, by the which many men be slaine and at the same 
time there ialleth great abundance of snowe. There be also such mighty 
tempests of colde windes that sometimes men are not able to sitte on 


filled the basins to a higher water-level and also covered 
the land with better and more reliable pastures. Around 
Uriu Nor Price found no nomads, no trace even of a 
present-day occupation, and little in the way of pasture 
to attract them in this direction. Yet old burial-mounds 
and monoliths proved, that once people must have been 
numerous enough in this locality. The water of Uriu 
Nor is fresh, and is inhabited by quantities of fish which 
attract innumerable birds, such as gulls, terns, and cor- 

From our camp on the south side of the Barmen 
Range, we sent the main caravan to await our arrival 
on the shores of Achit Nor, whilst we, with a light caravan 
and a few Mongols, explored the western side of the Tur- 
gun. One valley alone gave us access to the highlands 
from the west, and this was Yamachu, a tributary of the 
Enderti, which eventually flows into Achit Nor. This 
was a fine, open valley, with wide, shingly river-bed, but 
without a great flow of water. Bare, grassy hills bordered 
it, and a narrow zone of larch forest clung to the 
side of the valley facing north. On the second day, 
reaching the limit of grass and fuel, we found ourselves 
beneath the inaccessible Kundelun Peak, and we encamped 
a mile below the moraine of the Yamachu glacier. We 
had half expected that the Kundelun would be accessible 
from the south, but found that its southern face was a 
steep wall of rock, which dropped sheer on to the glacier. 
The Yamachu glacier was about three-quarters of a mile 
long, and filled a narrow gorge between the Kundelun 
and Yamachu peaks ; it ended in a steep rock-wall and 
ice-cliff, which joined the two peaks at the head of the 
glacier. The cliffs bordering the glacier were accountable 
for the enormous accumulation of rocks and rubble on 


the ice, and the very large terminal moraine at its 

On climbing over the ridge bordering the valley on 
its south, we discovered a beautiful contrast in the sight 
presented to our view by a rolling grassy plateau which 
lay beyond. Our work grew as we advanced ; new 
geographical features rose "before us, and demanded our 
attention, and long days with the plane-table had ample 

The exploration of the Turgun leaves in my mind 
the remembrance of some of the hardest work I have 
ever accomplished. The continual keeping up of a 
plane-table survey is no light labour in itself. So large 
an area of unknown country, presenting the explorer 
with a vaster area to map than he could possibly 
accomplish, bred in me an insatiable desire which, of 
course, could never be gratified and therefore intensi- 
fied the strain of continuous labour. There was no 
end, no relief, no hope of achievement ; no matter how 
much I did, there was still more to do. The extra- 
ordinary charm of plane-tabling in an open country, 
with immense views and the best of instruments, increased 
the already great desire to go on and on. The keeping 
up of a continuous survey as we moved was merely a 
detail of the day's work. There were altitudes to records 
notes to write, photographs to be taken, besides the 
successful collecting of birds, the trapping of small mam- 
mals, all of which had to be skinned and preserved ; 
after which I slept only if there were time left for such 
a luxury. Whilst working at high pressure on the Tur- 
gun, fifteen hours in the saddle or standing at the plane- 
table, seemed to be the ordinary day's work ! With a 
mounted Mongol to carry the instruments, with a dog 


and a collecting-gun, I made use of the precious 
moments, whilst moving from one plane-table station to 
another, by shooting all I saw in the bird-line. 

On reaching camp there were all sorts of details 
concerning transport to be managed, and perhaps a Chief 
to be called upon, or servants to be despatched with 
presents. And then, after camp was quiet, and even the 
dogs were asleep, I used to start to prepare the results 
of my day's collecting, and, by the light of a flickering 
candle, birds and beasts were skinned, " made up," and 
packed away. All this would have been impossible, 
without the keenness of my companions to aid me in many 
branches of the work. For, although it is true that " if 
you give a man more work than he can do, he will do it," 
yet hard living, high altitude, and none too nourishing 
food, tell quickly when ambition drives one irresistibly 
forward. As it was, Miller kept up his survey with 
prismatic compass, took innumerable photographs, and 
hunted every beast he saw, whilst Price was continually 
employed at his botanical and geological work. I 
think we accomplished, whilst in the Turgun highlands, 
the maximum amount of work possible during the time 
at our disposal. 

The Yamachu was one of the most beautiful spots 
we found in North-west Mongolia. Leagues of rolling 
country covered with rich, golden-yellow grass, dotted 
with blue patches denoting lakelets, lay untenanted and 
inviting around us. Beyond, to the southwards, was a 
new range, which we named after the plateau ; to the 
east we had the background of the conical ice-capped 
Kundelun. The average height of the plateau was 
8,200 ft., and it kept up its altitude until it suddenly 
dropped off in sharp escarpments to the Achit Nor plain. 
I— 19 


Unnumbered lakes formed the homes of many wild-fowl, 
but the pastures still remained unused by man. So far 
as we could ascertain, the Yamachu plateau did not, for 
some unknown reason, attract the Durbet nomads, yet 
its pastures must be of the richest quality. The question 
naturally arises, Why are the Mongols decreasing when 
they own so good a land ? whatever the cause of Mongol 
decadence, it cannot be through lack of available territory. 

From the Yamachu plateau we descended by steep 
and sudden declivities into the dry, barren plain of 
Achit Nor, and eventually arrived at the altitude where 
the water from the mountain percolates up through the 
ground, and marshes, meadows, and acacia-scrub make 
a suitable resort for the shepherds. We pitched our 
tents close to the lake. Within view was a scene char- 
acteristic of Northern Mongolia, the lake, teeming with 
bird-life, and alive with fish, was surrounded by marshy 
shores, where saline pastures afforded unlimited grazing 
for immense flocks of sheep and herds of two-humped 
Bactrian camels, there was a wealth of animal life as 
well as the presence of a numerous and hardy Mongol 
population. Beyond, was a zone of more barren 
steppe, leading up to the highlands where plateaux 
and valley-pastures abounded, where pleasant larch- 
forests gave protection from the cold in winter, and made 
a pleasing contrast of scenery in summer. Higher still 
were alpine pastures, and a world of rock and snow, — 
features in the scenery of Northern Mongolia which add 
to its beauty and mean much to the shepherds who are 
dependent on them for summer grazings. 

There are great delusions about Mongolia. These 
descriptions of ours may seem exaggerated to the ordinary 
reader, whose idea of Mongolia is that of a hungry land, 


where men live in utmost poverty, and where camels and 
sand are the chief features of the landscape. We are not 
surprised if our impression of Mongolia seems optimistic, 
for the popular idea of this country is gained from the 
accounts of its southern borders, from descriptions of 
travellers who have only seen the barren frontiers which 
border on the Great Wall of China. Men who have crossed 
its inhospitable centre from Pekin to Urga have only 
seen a very small portion of the true Mongolia, where 
the ancient Mongols not only lived, and thrived, but 
increased in numbers and rose to power. Sir Francis 
Younghusband, who rode across a thousand miles of 
Mongolia, and traversed a region not very far south of 
the scene of our labours, was astonished at our descrip- 
tions of the pleasant regions of the north-west, with its 
mountains and forests and large tribes of nomads. 
Younghusband travelled only by camel through an 
almost unpopulated region, and never saw a tree during 
the course of his journey. 

But ours is a new Mongolia. We present to our readers 
a land of wealth and beauty, a land occupied by great 
nomadic tribes, supporting immense herds, and peopled 
by a race who are still numerous, still have good qualities 
in spite of their decadence, and who may still some day 
become of account. Ours is a region of plain and plateau, 
mountain and lake, a pleasant country of pasture and 
forest, situated, not at the back of the world, as might 
be supposed, but in close proximity to Siberia, which is 
a land of growing importance, and one which will even- 
tually affect the whole existence of Mongolia. 

Mongolia is so vast in extent, and spreads over so 
many degrees of latitude, that its different portions 
come under many varied climatic conditions, and con- 


sequently its scenery is very contrastive. Broadly 
speaking, Mongolia can be divided into four zones. 
On the south is a zone which comes under the climatic 
influence of the Pacific, and in consequence is a pasture- 
land well named by the Chinese the " Land of high-grass/' 
This zone was formerly Mongol, but is now rapidly be- 
coming Chinese ; instead of tenting nomads and innu- 
merable flocks, there are now farmers and colonists, who 
are rapidly breaking the soil and building settlements, 
with the result that Southern Mongolia will soon be 
Chinese in all but name. 

North of this zone is desert Mongolia, — the second zone 
generally called Gobi, or Shamo. The Chinese call this 
region Han-hai, which means " dry sea " ; not a sea 
which has dried up, but a region as vast as the sea, which 
is rainless — desiccated. This barren, worthless region oc- 
cupies only about one-quarter of the whole of Mongolia, 
yet its aridity and desert nature has often been applied 
to the land as a whole. The Gobi occupies the heart 
of Mongolia, and in character is a depression in the 
middle of the plateau. In its northern part it averages 
about 3,500 ft. in altitude, and is of a hard, strong sur- 
face ; in the south it descends to its lowest altitude 
(2,400 ft.), and here there are large tracts of sands. The 
surrounding border-ranges intercept all rainfall, and the 
Gobi is left devoid of moisture and useless to man ex- 
cept in the spring months. Even in the driest localities 
pasture appears during the spring, and nomads may be 
found wandering over the worst zone of Mongolia and 
making good use of it. 

The third zone of Mongolia lies along the northern 
edge of the Gobi, between the desert and the northern 
border-ranges. This is again a pasture-land, where the 


tribes find sufficient grazing to last all the year round, 
and this area merges imperceptibly into the fourth zone, 
that of Northern Mongolia, which borders on Siberia. 
Here the Mongolian plateau reaches its highest eleva- 
tion, and here the land comes under the influence of the 
Siberian climate. The plateau is studded and broken 
by ranges of snow-capped mountains ; in consequence 
summer rains are frequent, and there is no lack of pas- 
ture. Here are the forests of larch and spruce, the 
luxuriant meadows and the wealth of wild-flowers, the 
land of our descriptions. This is the true Mongolia, the 
primeval home of that race who, as nomad shepherds, 
left their native plateaux, rose to power, and eventually 
became a nation. It is here they built their capital, 
Karakorum, and it is in this zone that the only towns of 
Mongolia exist at the present day. Whatever the total 
population of Mongolia, it is probable that two-thirds of 
it reside in the northern zone, where the tribes live within 
their ancient boundaries, under the rule of their heredi- 
tary Khans, with ample good land at their disposal and 
ready markets at their doors. The importance of 
Siberia to Mongolia (and vice versa) is incalculable. 
Mongolia must have a future, must grow in importance 
as Siberia develops, and the Mongols may find them- 
selves in a very much improved position. 

This is the important zone of Mongolia, the zone 
which demands attention. For nearly eight hundred 
years it has been behind the scenes. The once-valiant 
Mongols have sunk from their high estate. Lama- 
ridden, and fleeced by the Chinese, the Mongols remain 
in a state of serfdom under their chiefs. But the tribes 
stir ; there is discontent in the encampments ; Mongolia 
has appeared again on the world's stage. 



We could not visit the ancient home of the great Mongol 
tribes, we could not ride all day in company with the 
rough Mongol cavaliers, and encamp at night in close 
proximity to the domed tents clustered like bee-hives 
on the open plateaux, without becoming intensely 
interested in all that concerned them. We saw them as 
they are, under the present conditions, we studied their 
character, their social conditions, their modes of govern- 
ment, and this study stirred the imagination and forced 
us to look far back into the past. We endeavoured to 
grasp a knowledge of their history, and, when a glimpse 
of their remarkable past was obtained, we could not 
refrain from trying to forecast the future of this mys- 
terious race, for the whence and the whither of the Mongol 
peoples must be of absorbing interest to all students of 
Asiatic history and Eastern politics. 

The story is concerned with a race of shepherd- 
warriors, who, suddenly realizing their power, " burst all 
link of habit/' deserted their native steppes, and, con- 
quering empire after empire, overran all Asia, then, 
with unsatisfied ambition, started to terrorize all Europe. 

1 This chapter has been added as a sequel to our experiences of Mon- 
golia in 1910-11, before its severance from Manchu suzerainty. The 
subject is treated from a non-political aspect. I attempt to theorize only 
as to the effect this change may have on the Mongols themselves. 



Such a story lives as a fact of unsurpassed and unparalleled 
achievement. Such an unaccountable migration is of 
the deepest significance. With what force were the 
nomads suddenly imbued ? What strength of ambition 
compelled them to launch out into the world — the un- 
known world — which lay far beyond their desert fast- 
nesses ? Was it fanatical zeal, or discontent, lust of 
plunder, or a mere letting loose of a super-abundance of 
martial and adventurous spirit ? Did the Mongols 
burst their boundaries because, owing to increase in 
population, they had to move forward and discover 
fresh lands ; that is to say, did they desire more space, 
owing to excessive well-being and opulence ? Or was 
the exact opposite the case ? Were the Mongols driven 
to seek new lands through poverty and lack of substance ? 
When the struggle for existence is severe, men become 
desperate, and, as poverty rather than plenty increases 
population, it is possible that the Mongols may have 
outstripped the means of subsistence and been forced 
to migrate. Such questions came to us as the red-coated 
Mongol horsemen rode near us during the day, and sat 
around the camp-fires with us at night. They could tell 
us nothing, they were unaware of their ancient greatness. 
Only the name Jenghis remained in their memory, and 
him they treated as a deity and spoke of with reverence. 
The problem of the cause of the Mongol migrations 
claims close attention, and is in itself a subject de- 
manding detailed and lengthened research. The exact 
cause of the eventual fall and decadence of the Mongols 
is, however, the special problem which, at this moment, 
chiefly influences us when we compare their past 
with their present. The same cause will, as] far as 
can be judged, undoubtedly affect their future, and, in 


point of view of the recent disturbances amongst the 
Mongols and the possibility of a new autonomous Mon- 
golia, the subject is of special interest. 

We have only to judge of the condition of the Mon- 
gols at the zenith of their power, and to compare it 
with their present state, in order to bring forward a 
theory as to the cause of the change, and thereby to 
predict the effect on the future. By looking back into 
the past we shall see how greatly Mongolia impressed 
Europe in the thirteenth century, and we shall judge as 
to the extent of their downfall, by comparing with their 
greatness the condition in which we now find them. 
It is a knowledge of the past and the present that alone 
will aid us in arriving at some of the future possibilities 
of this remarkable race. 

We, in Europe, scarcely realize the existence of the 
Mongols as a dominant factor in the world's history ; 
it is difficult to believe that the Mongols once represented 
the greatest human force that Providence made use of, 
to kindle the dying West into new life. There is no 
doubt that such great movements, and the disturbances 
that follow in their wake, bring fresh virility and stimulus 
to countries sinking into a condition of lethargy, as 
instanced by China and Europe in those days. Nature 
realizes the necessity of periodically purifying the old, 
stagnant nations ; and her plan is generally the same, 
namely, by war. 

The thirteenth century stands out from the others 
as an epoch in the history of Europe and Asia. For the 
first time the two continents were brought into close 
contact. The pouring of the Mongols into Europe, and 
of the Crusaders into Asia, were comparatively small 
events when considering the immense influences brought 


to bear on Europe by the sudden opening up of that vast 
world vaguely known as " The East." Yet the part 
the Mongols played in producing this Renaissance must 
be accounted to their credit. The Mongols may have 
been a scourge in appearance, but they were also a 
blessing in disguise. China's existence as an Empire 
for so much longer than any other nation, is entirely 
resultant from her record-history of changes of dynasty, 
revolutions and disasters. At the time of the Mongol 
invasion China was at its lowest ebb, but with the 
reign of Kublai Khan, her first Mongol Emperor, China 
sprang into new life, and this period is marked as an 
epoch of vigorous endeavour and rejuvenescence. 

In the West it was the same. The influence of 
the feudal institutions and many intestinal wars had 
rendered Europe weak and inert ; but the sudden 
appearance of innumerable hosts of Asiatics who threat- 
ened to eat up the whole continent, who forced Europe 
to take combined action, and who, incidentally, brought 
about a regular communication between Europe and 
Asia, was, no doubt, a great force in awakening Europe 
into new life. The Mongols did their service to mankind 
and then disappeared. The meteor-like career of the 
nomads seemed supernatural in its entirety from begin- 
ning to end. Their armies disappeared as suddenly as 
they had been called into being. Like the dying out of 
some plague, the Mongol Peril sank into nothingness. 
Yet in Mongolia, the old home of the race, there still 
remains the residue of the ancient clan who thus once 
disturbed the world. 

We possess few records of the Mongols at their period 
of greatness, their actual character and habits at that 
time being only slightly known to us ; for the Mongols, 


like other nomads, left no records of their achievements. 
Their Empire was entirely ephemeral, their far-reaching 
conquests had no lasting effect, and they disappeared as 
quietly and as quickly as they came into being. The 
existence, at the present day, of poor degenerate tribes 
of Mongols inhabiting isolated localities scattered across 
Asia, and even in Eastern Europe, shows roughly the 
extent of their ancient kingdom. Their amazing con- 
quests and their extraordinary activity are brought 
strongly before us by the existence of the Great Wall of 
China — that tribute to their valour and strength. It is 
almost incredible, considering the present-day con- 
dition of the Mongols, that the stupendous labour 
which the building of the Great Wall entailed was 
undertaken simply in order to prevent the barbaric 
hordes of Mongols from overrunning China. 

The existence of the Mogul Empire in India is 
another proof of the ambition of the Mongols and of 
their remarkable success in the days of their power. 
Yet nothing of this Empire remains in India, to show 
that its origin w r as Mongol ; for there, as in other 
countries they conquered, their personalities have been 
entirely absorbed by local influences. Besides these 
few outward signs of Mongol power, we have some 
rough accounts handed down to us from the thirteenth 
century, in which we may read of the great days of the 
Mongols and of the manner in which these people im- 
pressed Europeans. 

It was not until the early part of the thirteenth 
century that Mongolia began to thrust itself upon the 
attention of the Western peoples. Although the Mongols 
had already overrun Asia from the Pacific to the Black 
Sea, and although mighty upheavals had shaken the 


foundations of the Eastern kingdoms, Europe, in spite 
of these great movements, remained undisturbed and 
indifferent, apparently quite unaware of the great Mongol 
advance. Not until the eastern portions were assailed 
and the very heart of Europe threatened did the 
ruling Powers seem to realize the existence of the 
Mongol Peril. The ignorance which existed in Europe 
in those days as to the peoples of Asia is shown by the 
reports, stories, and legends which flew in advance of 
the onward-moving hosts of Tartars. For extravagance 
and romance these tales could scarcely be equalled. 
The sudden appearance of the Mongols on the edge of 
Europe awoke her to new life and created lively interest 
in these unwelcomed invaders. Who were these in- 
numerable hosts of savage men who came from the 
uttermost East, and who were never sated with con- 
quest ? 

The following is one of the earliest descriptions of the 
Mongols as given to Europe in the thirteenth century * : 

" That the joys of men be not enduring, nor worldly 
happiness long lasting without lamentations,' ' wrote 
Matthew Paris, " in this same year [i.e. 1240], a detest- 
able native of Satan, to wit, the countless army of 
Tartars, broke loose from its mountain-environed home. 
. . . Swarming like locusts over the face of the earth, 
they have wrought terrible devastation to the eastern 
parts [of Europe], laying it waste with fire and carnage. 
They are inhuman and beastly, rather monsters than 
men, thirsting for and drinking blood, tearing and devour- 
ing the flesh of dogs and men, dressed in ox-hides, 
armed with plates of iron, short and stout, thick-set, 

1 Matthew Paris, as quoted in the Hakluyt Society's edition of The 
Journey of William Rubruck. 


strong, invincible, indefatigable, their backs unprotected, 
their breasts covered with armour ; drinking with 
delight the pure blood of their flocks, with big, strong 
horses, which eat branches and even trees, and which 
they have to mount by the help of three steps on account 
of the shortness of their thighs. They are without 
human laws, know no comforts, are more ferocious than 
lions or bears. . . . They spare neither age, sex, nor 
conditions. They know no other language than their 
own, which no one else knows ; for until now there has 
been no access to them, nor did they go forth [from their 
own country] ; so there could be no knowledge of their 
customs or persons through the common intercourse of 
men. They wander about with their flocks and their 
wives, who are taught to fight like men. And so they 
came with the swiftness of lightning to the confines of 
Christendom, ravaging and slaughtering, striking every 
one with terror and incomparable horror.' ' 

This was the reputation the Mongols enjoyed when 
their name first reached Europe, and created the terror 
which foreran their advance. The very name of the 
Tartars made men shudder. They were put down as a 
" scourge from God" ; old writers refer to them as a 
" visitation from God, demons who had been sent to 
chastise mankind." Europe did not look on the Mongols 
as human enemies or as a common foe, but as something 
supernatural. Men then believed the Mongols had 
heads like dogs and fed on human flesh ! Such wild 
terror spread through Europe in advance of the Tartars 
and the threatening danger was taken so seriously, that 
the Danish fishermen dared not put to sea for fear of the 
Mongols ! 

It was the same in the Farthest East as in the Farthest 


West — on the shores of the Pacific as on the North Sea. 
A Chinese historian of the period exclaims with disgust, 
that " since the commencement of the world no nation 
has ever been as powerful as the Mongols are at 
present. They annihilate empires as one tears up 
grass. Why does Heaven permit it ? " Another writer 
describes the result of Mongol supremacy in significant 
terms when he remarks that " In Asia and eastern 
Europe scarcely a dog might bark without Mongol leave." 

So overwhelming was the Mongol flood which, sweep- 
ing across Asia, arrived at the gates of Eastern Europe, 
that the rulers of Europe began at last to consult each 
other, as to what they should do. Combined action 
must be resorted to, to stay such a human flood, no 
single kingdom could resist by itself alone. Nothing so 
clearly shows the fear which the Mongol hordes inspired 
in the hearts of the greatest European kingdoms, as the 
appeal made by the Emperor Frederik II., the Holy 
Roman Emperor, to Christendom, in order to repel the 
invasion of the terrible Mongols. Imagine a letter being 
addressed " to Germany, ardent in battle ; to France, 
who nurses in her bosom an intrepid soldiery ; to war- 
like Spain ; to England, powerful by its warriors and 
its ships ; to Crete, to Sicily, to savage Hibernia, to 
frozen Norway," in order to raise an international crusade 
against the nomad invaders from Far Mongolia ! 

Extracts from this letter will give a fair idea of the 
Mongol terror as it appeared in 1240. " A people," the 
Emperor continued, " issuing from the uttermost parts 
of the world, where they had long been hidden under a 
frightful climate, has suddenly and violently seized on 
the countries of the north, and multiplied there like 
grasshoppers. One knows not whence this savage race 


derives the name of Tartar, but it is not without a 
manifest judgment of God that they have been reserved 
from these latter times, as a chastisement for the sins 
of men and, perhaps, for the destruction of Christendom. 
This ferocious and barbarous nation knows nothing of 
the laws of humanity. They have, however, a chief 
whom they venerate, and whose orders they blindly 
obey, calling him the God of earth. These men are 
short and thick-set, but strong, hardy, of immovable 
firmness, and, at the least sign from their chief, rushing 
with impetuous valour into the midst of perils of every 
kind. They have broad faces, eyes set obliquely, and 
they utter the most frightful cries and yells, which 
correspond but too well with the feelings of their hearts. 
They have no other clothing than the hides of oxen, 
asses, and horses, and, up to the present time, they have 
had no other armour than rough and ill-joined plates of 
iron. But already — and we cannot utter it without a 
groan — they are beginning to equip themselves better, 
from the spoils of Christians ; and soon the wrath of 
God will perhaps permit us to be shamefully massacred 
with our own weapons. The Tartars are mounted on 
the finest horses, and they now feed on the most dainty 
viands, and dress richly and with care. They are in- 
comparable archers. It is said that their horses, when 
they have no other forage, will feed on the leaves, bark, 
and roots of trees, and that they are, notwithstanding, 
full of spirit, strength, and agility/ ' 

The Mongols, at a distance of 4,000 miles from their 
native land, within thirty years after their first small, 
unambitious forays, had acquired this remarkable and, 
no doubt, deserving, reputation. They had stamped 
fear into the hearts of all men from China to Hungary, 




they were ruthless in their dealings, they were born 
warriors, peculiarly suited to campaigning in open 
plain-lands ; they were hardened to all privations, were 
in absolute obedience under their chiefs, and apparently 
no power could stop their advance or hinder the eventual 
subjugation of Europe. The rough, simple nomads of 
the far eastern steppes had grown during these few 
years of wandering and campaigning into a warrior race. 
The Mongols were in those days the finest troops 
that could possibly be produced for Asiatic warfare. 
By birth they were wanderers, by nature the most 
mobile horsemen ; they wanted little and lived on little, 
and were inured to hardship and fatigue. Carpini re- 
marked : " They are also very hardie, and when they 
have fasted a day or two without any manner of sub- 
sistence, they sing and are merrie as if they had eaten 
their bellies full " ! Every man was a warrior, and 
their number was great. They held manly virtues and 
martial valour in the highest esteem. The Mongol bards 
sang of the great bodily strength of Jenghis — their leader 
— rather than of his victories. They " vaunted in their 
songs the loudness of his voice, which sounded like 
thunder in the mountains, and the strength of his hands, 
like the paws of a bear, which could break a man in 
two as easily as an arrow.* ' For sheer bravery, blind 
obedience, and physical endurance the Mongols have 
earned a recognition from all writers. In those days the 
race must have been virile, strong, and of good physique. 
The many different tribes must have been bound to- 
gether by a common power, forming a great brotherhood 
of irresistible strength, with one aim and object, namely, 
to conquer, to slay, and to destroy all that came in 
their way. 


As the hordes moved westwards and came in con- 
tact with civilized kingdoms, they began to ape the 
show and magnificence of the countries they conquered. 
Wealth, treasure, and luxury were suddenly placed within 
their grasp, and they scarcely knew what to do with 
it, the more recent accounts showing that the en- 
campments of the Mongol chiefs led to a display and 
extravagance most unsuited to their rough nature. It 
is amusing to read Carpini's account of the splendour 
of the scene on the occasion of the election of the Grand 
Khan after the death of Jenghis. But it also proves 
once more the immense influence and far-reaching power 
of the Mongols at the height of their rule, and thus 
compares strangely with their latter decadence. 

" This con vocation/ ' Hue relates, " had set in motion 
all the Tartar princes of Asia, and the roads that led 
from all parts of the continent to the centre of Tartary 
were covered with travellers.' ' He then enumerates all 
the princes of blood that came with their military 
escorts, the governors of the Mongol possessions in 
China, the governor-generals of Persia, of Turkestan, and 
Trans-Oxiana, the Grand-duke of Russia, two contend- 
ing Princes of Georgia, ambassadors from the Caliph of 
Bagdad — all bringing magnificent offerings, and rivalling 
one another in the richness and pomp of their equip- 
ments. " The merchants of Persia, India, and China 
flocked thither in great numbers, with the more precious 
productions of the various countries of the East." The 
Imperial tent of the great Khan was " crimson and gold, 
and had been made in China. On a circular divan was 
raised a throne of ivory, elaborately carved and enriched 
with gold and precious stones," and " it was a marvel 
to see the great quantity of presents given to the Khan 


by ambassadors ; silks, samites, purples, balakins, silk 
girdles worked in gold, splendid furs, and other things.' ' 
Here also it was that a kind of umbrella or awning that 
is carried over the Emperor's head was presented to 
him, and " it was all covered with precious stones.' ' 
This took place at the Court of the Khan in Northern 
Mongolia in the wild nomad's land, where these same 
Mongols had, but a short time before, pastured their 
flocks in comparative poverty. 

It is unnecessary to give further examples of the 
prowess, power, pride and might which the Mongols 
possessed seven hundred years ago. The Mongol Empire 
which stretched from Cathay to Central Europe was 
gigantic, the greatest ever built up by a single man, 
and in so short a period of time. Their amazing rise 
to power admits of no doubt, and was as unmistakable 
as the suddenness of their fall. The ephemeral Empire 
soon crumbled to pieces, and by slow degrees the 
Mongols, as a people, disappeared from all parts of Asia 
outside their own country of Mongolia. 

If exaggerated, as no doubt these first accounts of 
the Mongols were, yet it is certain that these people not 
only held the uppermost hand in Asia, but even dictated 
terms to European princes. We wish to gauge the true 
value of the Mongol power in the thirteenth century, 
and the significance of these accounts surely proves our 
contention that the Western nations were compelled to 
join forces in order to expel the Mongols from Europe, 
and that the Mongol power was so great as to terrify the 
world, and to come near to conquering it. It is this fact 
that fills us with amazement at the sudden disappearance 
of those powerful nomad people. Where are now the 
Mongol armies ? To what low number have their countless 
I — 20 


hosts dwindled ? What remains to be seen of the 
widespread Empire of Jenghis ? This race which, at 
one time, was said " to eat up Empires like grass/' is 
now only to be found in the bleak and far-distant land 
of its birth, the warriors have returned to the simple 
life of a pastoral people, and there is no trace left of any 
desire to foster wars or to carry arms into a foreign 

Let us now look at the Mongols of the present day. 
The traveller in Mongolia, alive to the history and former 
greatness of the people who dwell there, will recognize 
much at the present day that corresponds to those old 
accounts of the Mongols as here quoted. He will note 
that they are still hardy, still capable of enduring 
fatigue, cold, and hunger ; so far, indeed, as physique 
goes, the Mongol of to-day is probably the equal of the 
men Jenghis Khan led to battle. They appear to live 
the same kind of life under the same physical conditions ; 
but a most significant difference is to be noticed in the 
social and economic welfare of the people. Instead of 
being turbulent tribesmen held by military allegiance 
to their chieftains, instead of being a people who repre- 
sented as a whole a great brotherhood with both ideas 
and wealth in common, they are now the serfs of their 
rulers, downtrodden, overtaxed, and bereft of that 
energy, fearlessness, and warlike spirit with which once 
they astonished the world. 

Another fact of the greatest importance is that the 
Mongol has changed his religion, whilst the alteration 
which has taken place in the social conditions of the 
Mongols during the last six hundred years, has brought 
about a transformation which results in an economic 
exhaustion of the country. In studying these changes 




which have taken place we are faced by the ever-recurring 
question as to the cause of the Mongol decadence. 
Several influences seem to be at work, such as a change 
for the worse in climate, the innovation of a new religion, 
and the burden of a foreign yoke. Each of these we 
will consider, for they best show the present state of the 
Mongols, in comparison with their past. 

A deterioration in the pastoral wealth of Mongolia, 
owing to a change in its climatic conditions, is a pos- 
sible reason for the exhaustion of the Mongol race. 
Judging from Professor Huntington's observations in 
Chinese Turkestan, which prove the greater aridity 
Central Asia experiences now, than in the past, it would 
be reasonable to suppose that the same conditions 
extend farther across Asia into Mongolia. We our- 
selves noted, in a significant manner, an obviously 
diminished rainfall as proved by the strands of ancient 
lake-beds. There is not the least doubt that a large 
area of Northern Mongolia, now very poor pasture-land, 
might, with a slightly greater summer rainfall, be 
greatly improved. A wide zone of country situated 
between the true Gobi and the mountain border-lands, 
has been affected by this decrease in rainfall. Rolling 
hill-country, rising out of the desert plains, extends over 
an immense area all along the southern borders of Outer 
Mongolia, all of which must have been utilized, in the 
old days, by the Mongol tribes. The addition of this 
hill-country, lying between the altitudes of 4,000 ft. and 
6,000 ft., to the present available pasture-land, means 
almost doubling the area capable of supporting human 
beings, and yet this area is, at the present day, not 
looked upon as a grazing country. 

That Mongolia has lost much good country does not 


do away with the fact that the present population fails 
to fill the available lands. There is much unoccupied 
land in Mongolia. In making this statement I incur a 
responsibility, in that I am stating only the results of 
our own observations. The local conditions we ex- 
perienced may not be universal in Mongolia. I only 
speak of the north-western portion ; some further in- 
vestigations are necessary before any definite conclusion 
can be reached. The case in point, namely, the Turgun 
highlands, and the extent of grazing those mountains 
afforded, supplemented by the proportion of land in 
occupation and of land untenanted, is worthy of record. 
We visited those regions towards the end of the summer, 
the season when Asiatic nomads are encamped at the 
highest altitude to which they ever ascend. Yet, in 
spite of this, and although this district was in the very 
heart of an area in the possession of a powerful and 
numerically superior tribe, we found a very large por- 
tion of the upland pastures unoccupied and apparently 
unused. Farther west we hunted for a week in the 
most magnificent grazing country, and never saw even 
a flock of sheep or a drove of horses. From this I 
argue that the poverty of the Mongols is not caused 
through lack of good country, for they could even in- 
crease and multiply, if they were able to do so, without 
having any occasion to enlarge their borders. 

Turning to the question of the weight of a foreign 
yoke, which is often put forward as a reason for the 
retrogression of certain peoples, it is a fact of great 
significance that the Mongols have never been subject 
to great oppression on the part of their rulers, the 
Manchus, who preserved intact their rights, forbad the 
colonization and purchase of their lands by Chinamen, 


and kept the Mongols in quiet, untroubled peace. The 
Manchu yoke, up till quite recent times, has been a light 
one ; the Mongols, as in the old days, have been left 
under the direct rule of their own chieftains, over the 
chieftains there being only an agent of the Chinese 
Government who acts as intermediary between the 
chiefs and the Pekin officials. 

Of late years, however, with the denationalization of 
the Manchus, the Chinese have become more energetic 
and more eager to advance their interests in Mongolia. 
With an increasing population at home, and an ever- 
growing desire on the part of innumerable agriculturists 
to seek new homes beyond the Great Wall, there has 
begun a slow but sure colonization of all available land 
suitable for agriculture. Northwards creep the eager 
bands of tenacious Chinese colonists. They have passed 
the boundaries into Inner Mongolia, they have taken 
up land and pushed back the indigenous Mongols, they 
have even crossed the desert zone dividing Inner from 
Outer Mongolia, and started with eagerness on the most 
inviting lands lying along the Mongol frontiers of Siberia. 
These colonists are state-aided, they are forwarded to 
their destination by government help. They are not 
only farmers and agriculturists, but merchants with a 
keen eye to gain, and with intentions to dupe the un- 
sophisticated Mongol herdsmen. Thus, all the wealth 
of Mongolia that does not go to Siberia is drained off 
by Chinese middlemen into Chinese markets ; the sheep 
and cattle, for instance, which supply the markets of 
northern China, are bought up at small expense by the 
Chinese in Mongolia, and sold at immense profit in the 
home provinces. In spite of the opening up of Mongolia, 
the Mongols themselves profit nothing by it. It is said 


that the Chinese have even got hold of the small areas 
of cultivated lands in Mongolia, and are gradually dis- 
possessing the princes of their property, by their iniquitous 
methods of money-lending. 

China has undoubtedly become more prominent in 
Mongolia in recent years ; the presence of a more virile 
and a more go-ahead people may have acted like a 
blight upon the Mongols. The decadence of the nomads, 
however, cannot be put down to a despotic and harsh 
foreign rule. Even the two years' conscription to which 
the Mongols are liable, the upkeep of the frontier guard- 
houses, the supply of transport for travellers and food for 
men on government service, as well as the tax demanded 
of them, would not in themelves cause excessive poverty, 
had they not other demands forced upon them, more 
inexorable and continuous than these taxes due to their 
masters. It is, moreover, some cause deeper than that 
of mere poverty that we hope to discern, such as the 
cause for the decline of the birth-rate, or the mysterious 
influence which has been at work amongst the Mongols 
and changed them from proud, overbearing warriors 
to peace-loving, unambitious shepherds. 

If a Mongol contemporary of Jenghis Khan came 
back to life he would find himself at home amongst the 
present-day Mongols. His clothes would be in fashion, 
the tent-life would appear the same, as also the herding 
of the beasts and the routine of everyday life. But, on 
the other hand, he would note one great change, which 
he would, at first, be altogether at a loss to understand. 
He would be surprised at the lack of young men working 
round the encampments, a lack of herdsmen tending the 
flocks ; and in place of the noisy groups of hard-working 
men to whom he was accustomed, he would find a strange 


*L 4j% 




but numerous element of men dressed in garments of a 
style unknown to him, lounging idly in yurts which 
did not belong to them, and in encampments where 
they apparently had no business. Our Mongol of the 
thirteenth century, visiting the Mongolia of to-day, 
would be also surprised at the numerous buildings which 
have sprung up since his day at every centre of Mongol 
life : buildings called lamaseries, where hosts of idle 
men live under the same roof. On inquiring, he would 
find that these buildings represented the temples of a 
new faith, and he would quickly realize that his Sham- 
manistic ideas were ideas of the past, that this new 
faith had taken the place of the old. He would then 
understand why there existed no longer those bands of 
rough horsemen, exercising their prowess and keeping 
themselves fit for active service, for their places had 
been taken by these strange, yellow-robed priests, who 
were careful to preserve life, and who were advocates for 
peace, not war. 

In short, the one supreme difference in the life of 
present-day Mongolia which has come about since the 
thirteenth century is the innovation of a powerful 
religious organization, which has made itself a power in 
the land equal to, or even greater, than that exercised 
formerly by the warrior chiefs. To the influence of this 
religious element, I feel I am right in attributing the 
great change in the Mongols of the present day. When 
we come to examine the doctrines advocated by the 
teachings of Lamaism, and when we realize the immense 
power which, by slow degrees, this organization has 
gained control of, until, as now, it represents the great 
social factor in the life of the Mongols, we shall not be 
surprised that the character of the Mongols has changed. 


Lamaism in Mongolia has been countenanced, and 
in every way encouraged, by the Chinese, who were clever 
enough to realize the influence such an organization 
would exercise over the nomad people. The Chinese 
patronized and endowed the monasteries, and granted 
special privileges to the lamas, well knowing that, so long 
as they influenced the priests, neither the people nor 
the chiefs would give any trouble. This is the best 
proof as to what is the primary cause of the evolution in 
the character of the Mongols between the sixteenth 
century and the present day. From the earliest days 
of recorded history the Chinese have endeavoured to 
control the aggressive tribes along her Mongolian border- 
lands, but she had no success until this vital force — religion 
— came to her aid, and softened, in a few years, the vigor- 
ous warlike spirits and predatory habits of the Mongols. 
Never was there a more potent influence for peace 
introduced amongst a fighting race. The very essence 
of this religion is tranquillity. Where arms failed, Lama- 
ism succeeded ; a few years after the introduction of 
Buddhism the warriors turned priests, and the Mongols 
became subject to the Chinese. 

The change is now complete. The men whose an- 
cestors were the vilest butchers of their fellow-men in 
the history of the world, who were the most blood-thirsty 
of warriors, now, under the influence of Buddhism, scruple 
to take a human life, and even hold sacred the lives of 
animals and insects ! Buddhism also teaches indifference 
to advance, learning, enterprise, and success ; it has 
the effect of stifling ambition, and is, therefore, in a 
great measure, responsible for retrogression amongst a 

Nor is the evil effect of Lamaism one which affects 


the mental conditions only ; it has even greater influence 
on physical conditions. Lamaism absorbs a large por- 
tion of the male population by inducing a vast majority 
of men, who under ordinary conditions of life would be 
the bread-winners and workers, to turn into a species 
of parasite. The boys, for instance, who in the earlier 
days devoted their time to martial and physical exer- 
cises, camp-work, or herding the flocks, are now entered 
at an early age as students in the lamaseries, and 
their lives are entirely sacrificed to the forms and 
services of religion ; when grown up, this tends to 
make them lead idle, useless lives, wholly dependent 
on others, when they should be independent and self- 
supporting. This great army of lamas is the burden 
of Mongolia. There exists a constant struggle on the 
part of the laymen to provide their parasitic brethren 
with the best of the produce. The indolent life of the 
lamaseries becomes the life of the people as a whole, 
and inertia becomes their chief characteristic. The 
lama himself need never work, all his needs being pro- 
vided for him ; he is even exempt from military service, 
which is compulsory for the Mongols. This exemption 
may in itself be a great inducement for the Mongols to 
enter the religious profession, military service having 
become so distasteful to them that even those who are 
liable to be called upon often try to evade it through 
bribery. The observant Prjevalsky remarks that the 
Chinese officials are content that this should be so, for 
it proves that the martial spirit of the nomads, which 
once they stood in dread of, is year by year becoming 

Another factor, which must not be overlooked in 
reviewing the influence of Lamaism over the Mongols, 


is that produced by the supposed celibacy of almost 
half of the male population. This may not, in itself, 
greatly lessen the birth-rate ; but the fact, as mentioned 
above, of so many men being idle weakens the economic 
condition by limiting the increase of the herds and 
thereby decreasing the resources of the country. So 
great is this decrease that Mongolia shows an excess of 
population beyond its resources, resulting naturally in 
want, poverty, and perhaps an artificially reduced birth- 

From these arguments there seems to be no doubt 
that the influence of Lamaism has robbed the Mongols 
of their bravery, and has softened their character, and 
there exists equal proof that in Lamaism lies the chief 
cause of the present poverty-stricken state of the nomad 
tribes. As another and additional proof of this we have 
an example of a tribe living near by, who are neither 
Buddhists nor, by any means, decadent. Side by side 
with the Mongols, and living under the same environ- 
ment, is the Turkish tribe of Kirei-Kirghiz, a nomad 
people whose mode of life exactly resembles that of 
the Mongols, but whose state of well-being and con- 
tinued progress stands in direct contrast to that of the 
Mongols — these Kerei being Mohammedans. 

We visited Mongolia before the Revolution of 1911 ; 
since that date surprising changes have taken place 
in the political situation of Outer Mongolia. At the 
present moment the future of this country appears to 
hang in the balance. During the present year, the 
power of the Manchu has fallen, the suzerainty of the 
new party has been questioned, and even repudiated. 
The Revolution in China has given the opportunity 
for the Mongol tribesmen to strike for independence ; 





for the Mongols argue that they are vassals of the 
Manchu Emperors, and if the Manchus are dethroned 
there is no reason why they should unconditionally 
accept Chinese rule instead. This step taken by the 
Mongols arouses the suspicion that these people are not 
so effete nor so incapable as might be supposed. 

In spite of the fact that the authorities, both temporal 
and spiritual/were dependent upon Chinese support, both 
these powers have demanded independence from the 
Chinese. No doubt this is largely due to the recent high- 
handed action of the Government in dealing with the 
Mongols, which destroyed the loyalty of the Mongol Princes 
and drove them to seek outside help. Added to this 
grievance were the increased efforts China has made to 
establish herself more surely on her northern frontiers, 
the introduction of a Chinese garrison, the enlistment of 
Mongol troops, and especially the abolition of the law 
forbidding the colonization of Mongolia by Chinamen. 
No grievance so quickly stirs a nomad people into dis- 
content and revolt as the slow enclosing of their prairies, 
and the transformation of pasture-lands into arable. 
The chiefs felt that their powers were not only decreasing, 
but were likely to altogether disappear, should the Chinese 
persist in their policy ; the people, of course, upholding 
the views of the chiefs. The exact position of the 
Church is not so clear, for in time to come a Russianiza- 
tion of Mongolia would inevitably tend to weaken the 
powers of the spiritual authorities, and to an impoverish- 
ment of the lamaseries. 

Taking for granted an autonomous Mongolia under the 
protection of Russia, 1 we can prophesy far-reaching and 
fundamental changes in the lives of the people and in 

1 For text of Russian-Mongol Protocol, see Appendix. 


the future of the Mongol race. Mongolia will become — in- 
deed, probably has already become — a land of activity 
and progress instead of, as formerly, a land of stagnation 
and suppression. Russian merchants will flock into 
the country, railways will be constructed, vacant land 
will be used for agricultural purposes, and waste-land 
reclaimed. There will be facilities for trade, which will 
prove advantageous to the Mongols as well as the Rus- 
sians. In regard to the future of the Mongols, the im- 
pression we gained is an encouraging one. The bulk of 
the population is of fine material, and with fair dealing 
a future might be made for the Mongol herdsmen. No 
race could exist for any great length of time under such 
severe conditions of life as above described, joined to 
the continual demands on its resources made by the 
chiefs, the Government, and the Church. 

The exploiting of the mineral wealth of Mongolia 
by Russia will, in itself, be an innovation of great mo- 
ment, and will have an immense effect on the attitude 
of the people towards their rulers. It has been a divine 
law, since the days of Kublai Khan in the thirteenth 
century, that no man, under pain of death, should dig 
in the earth and extract treasure. China has upheld 
this law. Only the Government and the Princes of 
the Church — reincarnations of Buddha — have the right 
to deal with precious metals ; for generations this 
monopoly has been meekly accepted by the Mongol 
races. But now this tradition will be broken through, 
and there will be a reversal of the divine law of the 
Tibetan Buddha. Foreigners will work gold-reefs, with 
the result that Chinese suzerainty and the Church will 
lose no small amount of prestige. With this new move- 
ment and activity the old lethargy will no doubt decrease, 


and, we hope, eventually disappear. The demands on 
the people will decrease, they will be free from Chinese 
tribute and from the extortionate demands of an over- 
whelming population of lamas. Lamaism must in itself 
be weakened, for under Russian rule only 20 per cent, 
of the male population are permitted to take up the 
religious profession. 

In this connexion we have a precedent in the 
history of the Buriats, a Mongol people under Russian 
rule in Siberia, who are also Buddhists, and whose ex- 
ample, if followed, gives cause for hope as to the future 
of the Mongols. The Buriats, since their enrolment in 
the Russian Empire, cultivate the soil, engage in 
various trades, learn the Russian language, acquire 
positions in the Government service, occasionally em- 
brace Christianity, and are remarkably prosperous and 
well off. The result of the new Russian-Mongolian 
Protocol will be the gaining by Russia of the use of a 
valuable land, while the Mongolians will have a near 
and certain market for their produce, and the friendship 
of traders and farmers who understand them and 
are far more in sympathy with them than are the 

The Russian influence has obviously an advantage 
over that of the Chinese. The Russians fraternize with 
the Mongol races, the race-barrier between them being 
much less marked than that between the Chinese and 
the Mongols. It is reasonable to hope that the Mongols 
may in time to come fall under this same influence, and 
by these means we may anticipate the lessening of the 
principal burden of Mongolia — the tyranny of the lama- 
series, — which tyranny we have already proved to be 
the primary cause of the decadence of the Mongol race. 


We can well imagine these people living under new con- 
ditions, coming back to new life, born again, as it were, as 
a respectable and well-to-do nomad people, and playing 
the part of a buffer-state between the two great Empires 
of Russia and China. 

Printed by Ha fell, Watson & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury.